The battle for the title on Stop 3 of the World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour continued off Gracetown on Saturday, with both the male and female competitors tackling heavy four to six foot waves at the new competition break, North Point.
Known for its intense, barreling waves, North Point hosted the world’s best female surfers for the first time in history, and despite the challenging conditions, the women dominated the day, including the highest single-wave scores of the event from Hawaiian surfers Tatiana Weston-Webb and Carissa Moore.
Gracetown local Bronte Macaulay’s familiarity with the hometown break wasn’t enough to overcome three-time WSL champion Moore and Sage Erickson (AUS) and the scores remained low for much of the heat, until Moore found herself a deep barrel for win and a solid 7.50.
“I was really excited to have the opportunity to surf a heat out here at North Point,” Moore said.
“I was a little nervous as I’ve only had a couple of surfs out here, so I don’t know the lineup too well.
“Surfing new and challenging spots like this is so good for the women’s tour and it really pushes our performance.”
Six-time WSL Champion Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) looked relaxed and confident in Heat 3 and vaulted into an early lead over event wildcard Mikaela Greene (AUS) and current World No. 5 Keely Andrew (AUS).
The current Jeep Frontrunner is off to a strong start to hunt down her first victory in Margaret River.
“It was nerve-racking and exciting getting a chance to surf at North Point,” Gilmore said.
“It was cool being out there with only the two other girls out and knowing that the next set that comes is all yours.
“I was so pumped after watching all of the men’s action yesterday and then seeing that barrel that Carissa (Moore) got, but the wind went a bit funky in my heat, which made it difficult. It was definitely a cool experience though and a win is a win.”
2018 rookie Caroline Marks (USA) continued her epic form, taking down Paige Hareb (NZL) and Lakey Peterson (USA).
16-year-old Marks is quickly becoming recognized for her technical backhand surfing, which was in full flight in the powerful West Australian waves.
“I’ve only surfed out here at North Point once before, and it was totally different,” said Marks.
”This was a really new experience for me. It’s really exciting and new surfing these different spots, and I love to learn so I’m stoked. I’m glad we ran here today after a number of days off. It was nice to finally get the competition started, especially in challenging and powerful waves like this. I’ve spent a lot of time looking up to these girls and now to be here surfing with them and wanting to beat them is so cool. I’m really stoked with where I’m at.”
The event’s highest single-wave score went to Tatiana Weston-Webb (HAW), who posted a near-perfect 9.00-point ride with two huge backhand turns.
Weston-Webb’s commitment was rewarded by the Judges, and although she didn’t find a solid backup score, it was enough to overcome reigning two-time WSL Champion Tyler Wright (AUS) and injury replacement Macy Callaghan (AUS).
“This was the first time I surfed North Point, so it’s nice to post such a solid score like that,” Weston-Webb said. “It is really difficult once you are out there to work out which ones to go for.
“My game plan definitely changed a lot. I eventually found one of the cleaner waves I had been looking for and those two turns felt really nice and thought it would be a good score. When they read out a 9.00, I was stoked.”
Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS), the CT veteran focused on defending her Margaret River Pro win, started her campaign with a win over Coco Ho (HAW) and Silvana Lima (BRA) in the opening heat.
Fitzgibbons delivered control over the bumpy conditions to jump straight into Round 3, despite discomfort from a recent toe injury. Ho and Lima will face potential elimination in Round 2.
“It’s definitely cool to surf the first women’s heat ever at North Point,” Fitzgibbons said. “It’s a really unique and tough wave to surf, particularly at this size.
“There is a lot of good turn sections and then some solid 10-point barrel sets, so it just comes down to what you luck into. I’ve been carrying a bit of an injury in my foot since the Gold Coast, but it is all good. It is on my back foot so is a little tender while I surf but is getting better every day.”
Heat 6 saw a dramatic end to the day with Malia Manuel’s (HAW) close encounter with the rocks at North Point and board replacement mid-heat.
It was a tough setback for the Hawaiian, who was chasing an average score to take the lead from Johanne Defay (FRA). Manuel struggled to find the waves after the incident, leaving Defay to take the win. Manuel and Nikki Van Dijk (AUS) will now surf again in elimination Round 2 when competition resumes.
“That was really scary at the end with Malia (Manuel) so close to the rocks,” said Defay.
“I wasn’t sure what had happened but when she re-appeared in the lineup, I knew she must have been okay. It is a powerful wave to surf and anything can happen out here but it was an awesome experience for the women to surf out here. I’m so happy to get the win and to get some waves at this place.”
Earlier in the day, the men battled through difficult conditions in the remaining five heats of Round 1 to decide who will skip to Round 3 and who will be relegated to elimination Round 2.
2015 WSL Champion Adriano de Souza (BRA) had a breakthrough at North Point with his first Round 1 heat win of the season.
The former Margaret River Pro winner found an early keeper in a slow heat for waves to overcome Kanoa Igarashi (JPN) and Yago Dora (BRA).
“It feels good to take a Round 1 win,” De Souza said.
“Everyone seemed to be waiting for the set waves and they stopped coming, so I had to change my strategy and luckily got that early wave. It is slow, but they are still great when they come. It was cool to share a heat with Yago (Dora) -- he is like a brother to me on Tour.
“He is so talented but struggled to get going in that heat. This event is special for me and to come here and get to surf all of the waves on offer is awesome. We are really blessed.”
Former Margaret River Pro winner and North Point standout, Sebastian Zietz (HAW), took out his Round 1 heat over current Jeep leader Italo Ferreira (BRA) and 2018 rookie Michael Rodrigues (BRA).
It was clear Zietz was hunting for a Perfect 10 to replicate his performance at this location last year, but the limited options on offer forced Zietz to take the heat with a combination of rail turns and shorter barrels.
“When I was watching it I thought I knew exactly where to sit and that we were going to score, but then it was a totally different ball-game once you were out there,” Zietz said.
“Although it wasn’t perfect, I’m stoked to get the win and skip Round 2. I’m really happy to be back in West Aus. I feel really comfortable here and it reminds me a lot of home with all of the powerful setups and heavy slabbing waves.”
2018 CT Rookie Willian Cardoso (BRA) had his first Round 1 win of the season overcoming CT veteran Adrian Buchan (AUS) and fellow rookie Griffin Colapinto (USA). Buchan and Colapinto struggled to find the quality waves, while Cardoso patiently picked off the sets to progress directly into Round 3 and skip the dreaded elimination Round 2.
2012 WSL Champion Joel Parkinson (AUS) beat Michel Bourez (PYF) and Patrick Gudauskas (USA) to close out the men’s competition in Heat 12.
Parkinson’s heat total of a 10.34 was the highest of the men's morning as conditions slowed over the low tide, showing experience pays at the elite level.
- with World Surfing League