In the two preceding editions of the Surf Ranch Pro, it’s safe to say that the women’s side has been a little less predictable. Four different surfers occupied the top two positions across those years, in contrast to the men’s, where Medina beat Toledo both times. This year shapes up as being equally unpredictable – there are realistically eight surfers who could claim to be right up there for favouritism at the event, so let’s have a look at who we think might leave Lemoore victorious.
It’s the same name atop this list as it has been all year, and as it will likely be for the rest of the year. Carissa Moore has established herself as comfortably the woman to beat in 2021, making every single semi-final in the five events so far, winning in Newcastle and finishing runner-up in Hawaii. She has been defeated in the semis in each of the last three events, but given her incredible talent she is a great chance to break that run at this event. Moore won the inaugural edition of this event back in 2018 so she’s certainly shown that she’s got what it takes to compete on the artificial wave, and she’s the deserved favourite to make it two from three this year.
The woman who finished just behind Moore in second back in 2018 was 7x world champion Steph Gilmore, and the way she’s been surfing suggests she’s a good chance of going one better this year. Gilmore started the year solidly but not spectacularly, earning herself three consecutive fifth-place finishes to start the year, but a finals appearance at Margaret River proved that she’s still got plenty of life left in those 33-year-old legs yet. One of the most gracious surfers on the world tour, one thing which is for certain is that Gilmore will be fantastic to watch at Lemoore, and it’s highly possible that her extremely watchable style will translate into an event win.
The woman who will accompany her to the upcoming Tokyo Olympics is fellow Australian Sally Fitzgibbons, and given she is coming off a win at Rottnest she has to be considered a great chance too. Like Gilmore, Fitzgibbons had been surfing well throughout the year but hadn’t been able to break through to the final few, but that all changed last event when she ploughed past everyone in her path to record a well-deserved win and 10,000 points. She jumped into second place in the world rankings courtesy of that victory, and with her confidence high and in good form, expect her to there or thereabouts when the whips are cracking.
The Next Tier
Caroline Marks could easily be included in the above list of favourites, but so far in 2021 she has proven unable to bring her A-game each and every event – which is fair enough given she is still just 19 years of age. In five events, she’s managed to squeeze in a win as well as three Round of 16 exits, which reinforces the idea that her best is as good as virtually anyone in the world, but that it can be frustratingly elusive. In fairness she was unlucky to be eliminated in high scoring heats a couple of times, but nonetheless the next step for her is to beat the lower-ranked surfers who she comes up against early in events. Of the four women mentioned so far, she would be the most likely to be eliminated early, but equally she is more than capable of blowing everyone away on her day.
Johanne Defay has been loitering around the lower half of the top ten for a number of years now, but she is working her way into the 2021 season nicely and finds herself in equal fifth on the world rankings as a result. After starting the year with a Round of 16 exit in Hawaii, she was knocked out in the quarter-finals three times in a row in Australia, before she ended that leg with a semi-final appearance on Rottnest Island. She is consistently competitive and rarely puts in a bad performance, so if there are stumbles from the aforementioned names she will be waiting in the wings to capitalise.
Tatiana Weston-Webb ended the Australian leg of the Championship Tour in disappointing fashion, surprisingly being knocked out in the first Elimination Round at Rottnest Island. Prior to that, however, she had been in sparkling form. She won at Margaret River against Steph Gilmore and had a second-place finish at Narrabeen, and as a result she still sits in third place in the world rankings despite the poor recent result. She is a powerful and dynamic surfer whose best stacks up very well with the other names on this list, and it would be no surprise to see her put in a big performance.
Isabella Nichols is one name which has had a tendency to pop up later in events than most people expect so far this year. Her best performance came in Newcastle, where she caused a number of upsets to make her way into the final, while she also made it into the quarters at both events on the west coast. Those results were enough to see her sitting pretty in the top ten more than halfway through the season, and if she can replicate the form from a couple of those Australian legs then she is more than capable of springing a surprise here.
Much more so than the men’s side of the draw, the women’s Surf Ranch Pro appears to be wide open, and there are numerous surfers who it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see holding the cup aloft at the end of the three-day waiting period. As we head towards the latter stages of the season, the race for the top five and a spot at Trestles is hotting up, meaning this event carries a huge amount of significance for those on the edge of those spots. It will be fascinating to see who takes their surfing to a new level, and who falters under all that pressure.