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Women’s Surf City El Salvador Pro – The Wash-Up

The women’s championship race is tantalisingly tight, with no surfer yet guaranteed a spot at the WSL Finals in Trestles and most of those outside the top five more than close enough to jump in. In something which is likely to become a trend for the remainder of the season, the Surf City El Salvador Pro resulted in plenty of movement on the leaderboard. Check out how it all went down. 

The Event

As was the case at G-Land, and will be for the remainder of the season, the small fields for the women’s events following the mid-season cut means that at the beginning of events, almost every surfer competing has a reasonable chance of finishing in the top five and making it to the WSL Finals at Trestles. That was no different at the Surf City El Salvador Pro. The quality of the 12-woman strong field was incredibly high and there was a lot on the line for every competitor, and with only 15 total heats comprising the event it was all on the line from the get-go.

Unlike in the first five events of the season, the Opening Round now sees heats of three in which the bottom two are sent to the Elimination Round, unlike previously where only the bottom ranked surfer would face an early exit. That means there are invariably numerous big names in that Elimination Round, and after failing to finish atop their Opening Round heats at El Salvador, those names here included Carissa Moore, Johanne Defay, Steph Gilmore and Tatiana Weston-Webb. Lakey Peterson, Courtney Conlogue, Isabella Nichols and Sally Fitzgibbons were the winners of the four heats, meaning they jumped straight through to the quarter-finals.

Those big names, however, are big names for a reason, and it showed in the Elimination Round. Moore came out of the blocks like a woman possessed, demolishing Tia Blanco 15.66-7.84, before Defay was comprehensive in beating Gabriela Bryan immediately after. The returning Caroline Marks then reminded everyone why she can still play a role in the season despite having missed the majority of events, before Gilmore showed turned back the clock with a dominant display against Weston-Webb.

The quarters continued in solid but unspectacular conditions, with Punta Rico failing to turn it on like it’s capable of but still providing more than enough for the pros to work with. Gilmore was one who did just that; her 16.20, which saw her eliminate countrywoman Nichols, was the best score of the round, and with three of her four waves in that heat scoring 7.73 or more, the seven-time world champ was looking ominously similar to the Gilmore of a bygone era. Defay and Marks were also excellent, scoring 15.60 and 14.03 respectively en route to comfortable victories against Fitzgibbons and Moore, while Peterson was the fourth woman to advance to the semis with a tight win against Conlogue.

With Tyler Wright absent from the event and Moore and Hennessy eliminated, each of the four semi-finalists had an excellent chance to bound up the leaderboard. Peterson was the first to take advantage, disposing of a somewhat disappointing Defay 12.70-9.67. Marks came up against Gilmore in the next semi, and once again the Australian showed she had silverware on her mind, winning comprehensively with again the best score of the round.

Heading into the final she was clearly the one to beat given how well she had been surfing in the contest to that point, but she didn’t exactly start like it. Gilmore took just four waves in the heat and her first two failed to register more than 0.53, though conditions were clearly to blame, with Peterson also unable to lock into anything worth mentioning early. Things picked up as the heat progressed, fortunately, with both women putting together two waves of consequence. Peterson’s resulted in a total of 10.67, which was never going to be enough to stop the rampaging Gilmore, who managed 13.00 and secured her first event win of the year. 

The Standings

Unsurprisingly, Gilmore was the big mover in the women’s rankings. After three consecutive quarterfinal exits, her win and the 10,000 points that accompanied it saw her catapult from 7th to 3rd, and within striking distance of the top two. Moore still sits on top despite her rare failure to make the semis, but Defay has closed the gap on her in a big way, moving to within 2,000 points of the reigning champ (which correlates to roughly one round in a contest). Rounding out the top five is Hennessy, who continues to drop down the rankings after a strong start to the year and is looking vulnerable in that finals spot, and Peterson, who jumped ahead of Wright into 5th place.

Wright, incidentally, has now compiled three throwaway scores in succession, the latter two of which have been a result of her COVID diagnosis just after the beginning of the previous event in G-Land. This season had been the 2016 and 2017 world champ’s best and most uninterrupted in years up until the last few weeks, and if she returns to full fitness she seems almost certain to jump back into the top five.

Little separates the rest of the leaderboard, as indicated by the fact that Weston-Webb’s early exit saw her fall from 5th way down to 9th in what has been a surprisingly inconsistent season for last year’s runner-up. Marks, having hardly competed all year, sits down the bottom of the leaderboard; if she can go on a tear the likes of which she is probably realistically capable of she could have the top five looking fearfully over their shoulders, but she would need to go close to winning each of the remaining three events of the year to get there.

What’s up next?

Next up, we head to Brazil for the Oi Rio Pro, an event which has been a haven for Aussie women in recent years. Fitzgibbons, Gilmore and Wright have accounted for seven of the last eight wins at the event, while Conlogue is the lone non-Aussie to win since 2012.

This will be the third last event of the regular season before the WSL Finalists are decided, and with so little between virtually every surfer left on tour there is plenty on the line. Things can and most likely will change rapidly, so be sure to tune in when the event window opens on the 23rd of June. 

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