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The Women’s WSL Finals Wash-Up

There was plenty of criticism about the WSL’s new format to crown the world champions, but among those who tuned in throughout Tuesday’s event at Trestles, very few would have been disappointed with the quality of competition that was on show. Both the men’s and the women’s brackets saw plenty of high-quality surfing as well as a couple of visits from some of the local wildlife, making for an entertaining day of competitive surfing. In contrast to the men’s side of the draw, the women’s bracket was wide-open – though Carissa Moore finished reasonably comfortably on top of the world rankings, her buffer was not nearly at the level of her male counterpart in Medina, and very little separated second through to fifth. This is how the first ever women’s WSL Finals finished up. 

Match 1 – Stephanie Gilmore vs Johanne Defay

Match 1 of the women’s WSL Finals was surrounded by a lot of excitement, with Steph Gilmore entering the contest with an outside chance of becoming the first woman in history and just the second surfer after Kelly Slater to win eight world titles. She headed to the tournament in good form having won the final leg of the 2021 Championship Tour at Barra de la Cruz, but unfortunately her dream of making history quickly turned into a nightmare as she put in a thoroughly disappointing effort against France’s Johanne Defay.

Gilmore took six waves throughout the course of her heat but couldn’t muster a single score above 3.50, ending with a two-wave total of just 6.70. Defay didn’t exactly set the world on fire but was solid enough, and her best wave of 6.50 was nearly enough to beat Gilmore on its own. With a 5.67 thrown in there as a backup, she was able to comfortably get her day off to a winning start and advance through to Match 2.

Gilmore 6.70-12.17 Defay

Match 2 – Sally Fitzgibbons vs Johanne Defay

Match 2 saw Defay attempt to continue her Aussie-killing run, this time coming up against 30-year-old Sally Fitzgibbons, who was hunting for what would be a very well-deserved inaugural world title. As in Match 1, this heat was disappointingly one-sided, but this time it was the Australian getting the wood over the Frenchwoman. 

Fitzgibbons didn’t surf at her best, with her top two scores of 6.83 and 4.50 seeing her finish with a two-wave total of 11.33, but that was more than enough to see her finish ahead of Defay. France’s only contestant at Trestles scored a 5.83 with her second wave, which should have been enough to see her at the very least competitive and meant she only required a 5.51 to advance with the clock winding down, but she couldn’t manage a single second score that didn’t have a 0 in front of it, and was promptly eliminated.

Fitzgibbons 11.33-6.66 Defay

Match 3 – Tatiana Weston-Webb vs Sally Fitzgibbons

With a spot in the Title Match up for grabs, the stakes were on the rise in Match 3, and the quality of the competition duly lifted after an uninspiring first couple of heats. 5s and 6s were the order of the contest, as they had been in in the prior matchups, but Weston-Webb highlighted the importance of performing when it matters most in this new format, pulling out a big score with the clock winding down.

Fitzgibbons accumulated a decent total of 11.73, which was enough to see her in the lead with only single-digit minutes left on the clock. This left Weston-Webb needing a very achievable score 6.57, and with nine minutes left a wave which seemed to have all the hallmarks of a heat-winner loomed on the horizon. The goofy footer took off on her backhand and, after a somewhat conservative first turn, pulled off a huge hack and a couple of swooping cutbacks on what was the best wave of the contest to date. She was rewarded with an 8.00 by the judges, taking her past Fitzgibbons and into the first ever WSL Title Match.

Weston-Webb 13.17-11.73 Fitzgibbons

Title Match – Carissa Moore vs Tatiana Weston-Webb

Heat 1

Carissa Moore had been sitting on the beach watching while her opponent for the Title Match was decided, but the lack of practice didn’t seem to deter her as she promptly put together a 5.73 and an 8.33 in Heat 1 to reach what was, to that point, the best two-wave total of the tournament of 14.06. Weston-Webb took a little longer to get going, but as she had against Fitzgibbons, muzzled the fat lady just as she opened her mouth to start singing.

A 7.33 on her fourth wave saw her needing a 6.73 to advance, so what did she do? Score a 6.93 on her very next wave. That saw her take the lead with just over six minutes left on the clock, but not satisfied with that slim margin she went and added a 7.87 to her catalogue to take her score to 15.20, and take a 1-0 lead over the world number one in the Title Match.

Moore 14.06-15.20 Weston-Webb

Heat 2

After putting together the two highest scores of the competition in Heat 1, Moore and Weston-Webb quickly showed that it was no fluke in their second matchup. Moore started off with the wave of the contest, a huge 8.93, before Weston-Webb added a big score of her own, albeit short of Moore’s at 7.93. From that point onwards, the world number one showed why she was just that, putting on a surfing masterclass.

Moore added a 5.83 to her score to take her to a two-wave total of 14.76, before bettering that with a 7.67 to take her to 16.60. Weston-Webb would ultimately add a 7.67 to her own score to put together what would have, in every other heat of the contest, been a winning two-wave number, but with Moore going on to add another score in excess of 8, the world number two’s 15.6 saw her fall short by a comfortable margin, and send the best-of-three matchup to a third and deciding heat.

Moore 17.26-15.60 Weston-Webb

Heat 3

If the finalists’ nerves weren’t high enough already, they would have been ramped up even further by the return of our toothy friend – or one of his friends – from the men’s Title Match a little earlier in the day. The sighting meant Moore and Weston-Webb had to wait a little longer before hopping in the water, but eventually they did and the first, and to date only, third heat in a Title Match got underway.

Moore picked up where she’d left off in Heat 2, quickly putting a 7.00 and an 8.00 on the board for an intimidating total of 15.00. Weston-Webb, however, stayed in the game with an 8.03 of her own. When Moore bettered her situation with an 8.60 – taking her total to 16.60 – Weston-Webb was well and truly up against it, needing a whopping 8.58 to claim her first world title. It seemed unlikely, but when a sizeable set wave loomed with less than two minutes to go, the surfing world held its collective breath. Two trademark backhand hacks to start off the wave left Weston-Webb in with a chance, and she only needed to successfully hit the final section to give herself a genuine shot at the score she needed. After hitting the lip, however, she fell in a spot where realistically she would probably not normally fall, and with that, Carissa Moore earned her fifth world title.

Moore 16.60-14.20 Weston-Webb

Whether or not that final wave would have earned Weston-Webb the score she needed for victory had she pulled off her last turn is something we will never know. Nonetheless, it showcased the enormous pressure and potential for thrilling finishes which this new format brings. Regardless of whether it would have been a match-winning wave, Weston-Webb will see images of that fall every time she closes her eyes for a while, but the end result is hard to argue with. Moore was the best surfer all year and was fantastic with her back against the wall when it mattered most, and with a fifth world title edges to within two of joining Layne Beachley and Steph Gilmore as the most successful female surfers in the sport’s history.