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The Roxy and Quiksilver Pro G-Land – The Wash-Up

The return of the Championship Tour to G-Land after a more-than-two-decade hiatus marked the first event since the inaugural mid-season cut, and with virtually every surfer at the contest having a legitimate chance at finishing in the top five and making it to the WSL Finals, there was a sense of added importance from the outset. Conditions on the speedy left-hander were solid throughout the event, which saw a couple of names on both sides of the draw make major moves at the top end of the leaderboard. The women’s rankings, in particular, had a major shake-up, while things remain as tight as ever in the upper echelons on the men’s side. This is how the two contests went down.

The Women

The women’s contest started off with four three-woman heats in the Opening Round, and unlike in previous events this season, the bottom two from each heat were sent to this Elimination Round, rather than just the loser. Unsurprisingly, this resulted in plenty of big names having their spot in the contest threatened in the Elimination Round. Winner of the Margaret River Pro Isabella Nicholls, as well as Courtney Conlogue, were the first sent there, before Johanne Defay and Bronte Macauley joined them after a tight second heat. Sally Fitzgibbons, competing as a wildcard after she surprisingly missed the mid-season cut, and Gabriela Bryan were then beaten by a red-hot Carissa Moore, before Lakey Peterson and Tyler Wright rounded out the list of names who would be forced to fight for their spot in the quarter-finals.

In a cruel twist of fate, Wright, in the midst of a comeback season which has her in the mix for world title favouritism, tested positive for Covid following that round. That all but spelled the end of her contest, though as the days continued to pass without waves there was some hope that by the time they arrived, she’d be out of isolation. Alas, a couple of days before her release the contest was called back on, and she was forced to withdraw from her scheduled clash with Macauley, who got a free pass into the quarters.

Defay and Conlogue were matched up next in what shaped as a tight heat, and it was the Frenchwoman stamping her authority on the matchup from the outset and ultimately running out a 13.97-10.13 winner. Fitzgibbons then made the most of the second chance handed to her by her wildcard status by disposing of a disappointing Nichols, before Peterson got the better of Bryan courtesy of two strong waves in the latter stages of the heat. 

The quarterfinals read like a who’s who of women’s surfing, with all of Moore, Fitzgibbons, Peterson, Tatiana Weston-Webb, Defay and Steph Gilmore taking their places in the final eight, and the round more than lived up to expectations. It began with a high-scoring heat between Moore and Fitzgibbons which the former won 14.87-13.14, continuing what has been a thoroughly frustrating season for the Australian veteran who she beat. Peterson and Weston-Webb followed, two surfers sitting right on the precipice of the top five, and unsurprisingly very little separated them; Weston-Webb getting the chocolates 13.36-13.03. Yellow jersey wearer Brisa Hennessy had a great chance to make her way through to the semis in the next heat, but she stumbled against Aussie Macauley, failing to score more than 5.33 on a single wave and going down comfortably. Defay and Gilmore rounded out the quarterfinals with a nail-biting heat; with Gilmore needing a 7.40 to pass Defay the seven-time world champ went mighty close on her last wave, but when the judges gave her just a 7.10 she was sent packing, and Defay advanced through to her first semi of the season.

The opening semi-final was a repeat of last year’s title decider with Moore and Weston-Webb matched up, but unfortunately it didn’t quite live up to the hype. Moore surfed as well as ever, putting together a 13.83 heat total, but Weston-Webb failed to fire and finished with a two-wave total of just 7.50. Fortunately, the second heat more than made up for the first. Both Defay and Macauley demonstrated the importance of wave selection, taking just four apiece but putting together a couple of good scores each. Macauley’s first was the wave of the heat, a 7.83, but with an inferior back-up score she ended up going down 13.66-13.33.

Defay has had a strange year, making it through to the quarterfinals of each of the first five events but failing to go any further, but having broken the duck she appeared primed to capitalise. Standing in her way, of course, was five-time world title winner Carissa Moore, but the reigning champ struggled early in the heat, and Defay opened up a hefty lead. A 14.00 heat total looked like enough to win it for the Frenchwoman, though Moore came home with a wet sail, and her final wave had close to all the makings of the 9.17 she needed to win. But though that did end up being the best wave of the heat, it resulted in only an 8.5 for Moore, and Defay was crowned the champion of the Roxy Pro G-Land.

That result saw her fly up the leaderboard from eighth to third, and all of a sudden she is sitting in the top five with more than 5,000 points separating her from sixth. Weston-Webb was another big mover, also jumping into the top five from tenth, while each of Nichols, Conlogue and Bryan went tumbling in the other direction. And while she didn’t win, Moore reclaimed the yellow jersey from Hennessy, leapfrogging the Costa Rican at the top of the leaderboard. Those two sit clearly out on top while Defay and Wright have a decent advantage on fifth, but a little over 2,000 points separates fifth from tenth. Even Fitzgibbons, back in 11th, is only one good event from jumping right back into contention, meaning that there is plenty on the line when we head to El Salvador in a few days’ time. 

The Men

Like in the women’s event, the men’s schedule underwent some change following the mid-season cut. Both sides of the draw followed the same format, with three-man heats opening things up and the bottom two surfers from each heat sent to the Elimination Round, but with 24 male surfers in this event as opposed to the 12 on the women’s side, there were eight heats per round for the men.

In the first couple of heats, Australia’s new power duo of Ethan Ewing and Jack Robinson picked things up where they left off in the first half of the season, winning their way straight through to the Round of 16, before John John Florence did the same. Local Rio Waida was then a surprise winner of a heat which included yellow jersey wearer Filipe Toledo and veteran Nat Young, before Italo Ferreira, Griffin Colapinto, Miguel Pupo and then Gabriel Medina – in his first event of the year – won the last four heats of the round.

That left a number of big names in the Elimination Round, but the first couple of them had no troubles staving off an early defeat. Toledo was too good for fellow Brazilian Yago Dora before Kanoa Igarashi beat Jackson Baker an hour or so later, but the big names started to topple thereafter. Jordy Smith was sent packing in a tight heat against Connor O’Leary, Kelly Slater followed shortly after, before the improved Callum Robson and Young lost the last two heats of the round.

And the big names continued to fall at the beginning of the Round of 16. Florence put in one his worst heats in a long time, scoring just 9.37 to go down narrowly to Jadson Andre and put his spot in the top couple of spots of the world rankings in peril, though that would prove to be the last upset for a while. Medina showed us that he hasn’t lost a step in the second heat, putting together a 14.67 to dispose of Kolohe Andino, before Robinson, Igarashi, Toledo and Colapinto won the next four heats. With the round winding to a close, however, the underdogs recaptured their bite, with McGillivray defeating Ewing in Heat 7 and O’Leary upsetting Ferreira immediately after.

Of the final eight surfers, five are legitimate title contenders – if you believe that Medina has a chance of working his way into contention having conceded such a significant start to his competitors. He sent a message to any doubters in the first heat of the round, with a 17.27 far too much for Andre to overcome. The next couple of heats were big ones in the context of the world rankings, beginning with a Robinson vs Igarashi clash in which the in-form Aussie proved too good, before Toledo took Colapinto to the sword as he attempted to hang onto the yellow jersey. The Round of 16 concluded with a heat with a little less star power between O’Leary and the lone remaining South African in McGillivray, and it was again the Australian who got the chocolates. 

Medina has been the undisputed best surfer in the world over the past few years, but one of the names that has stepped up this season to try to take the crown off him in his absence is Robinson, and the two fittingly matched up against one another in the first semi-final. Though only four years separates them, it felt like the proverbial battle between young and old, and it lived up to all expectations. Each of them surfed reasonably well, albeit a little scratchily, throughout, before finishing with the biggest two scores of the heats; Medina’s a 7.00 and Robinson’s a 7.83. And with similar back-up scores, it was the young Aussie who made his way through to a second consecutive final courtesy of that exchange. Facing him would be either Toledo or O’Leary, with the former clearly the heavy favourite, and though O’Leary put up a fight that was how it played out, leaving us with a finals clash between the world number one and the world number three.

Toledo would have held onto the yellow jersey regardless of the result, but a Robinson win would see them virtually tied together at the top of the table, with just 80 points separating them. In medium-sized conditions – the kind in which Toledo is the best surfer in the world – it seemed like he would be tough to beat, and a 7.83 on his second wave suggested as much. Robinson, however, had other ideas. He once again compiled his best score on his final wave, this time a 7.00, which was enough to give him a 13.50-13.16 lead which he wouldn’t relinquish.

And with that, Robinson won his second event in a row, and harking back to the last event of last season, he’s now won three of the past seven. With 32,160 points, he is as close to the yellow jersey as he could be without having it on his back, and he and Toledo are now over 5,000 points clear of Florence and about 10,000 clear of sixth place. They appear more likely with every passing event to be at Trestles come season’s end, while it’s also hard to imagine Florence missing out. Competition for spots four and five, however, are fierce. Between Igarashi in fourth and Robson in tenth is just a little over 4,000 points, while Medina’s semi-final appearance in his first event back was an ominous one. With just four events remaining he’s got plenty of work to do, but he’s capable of doing it, and deserves to be added to the long list of names set to battle it out for spots in the top five.  

After a few weeks off into the lead-up to the Roxy/Quiksilver Pro G-Land, the Championship Tour is all systems go over the next few weeks. The next event is the El Salvador Pro, the window for which opens this weekend, before the Oi Rio Pro begins almost immediately after. There’s plenty of water to go under the bridge on both the women’s and the men’s side of the draw, and the next couple of weeks will reveal plenty about who is likely to be competing at the WSL Finals in Trestles in a couple of months’ time.

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