Thursday, June 30, 2022 |
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So far, the 2014 season has been all about repetition. It’s been similar results at all three events throughout Australia on the women’s World Championship Tour, which finished up its final day at the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach on Wednesday in Victoria, Australia.
From the top of the results down to the bottom, the same names seem to be finding the same places in the standings. For Kauai’s duo of Malia Manuel and Alana Blanchard, Bells Beach was a final chance to move up the CT standings before the women head to Rio in May. With a pair of quarterfinals under her belt, Manuel made it back into the final eight, though it was a bit of misfortune for one of her competitors who put her through to that position. For Blanchard, there was more inconsistency in both her surfing and decision making, which led to her elimination in the second round.
Ultimately, it was Oahu’s Carissa Moore who took the top prize, defending her title from last year’s contest at Bells and ringing the bell after topping Tyler Wright in a hard-fought final. Moore now has first place in the CT standings all to herself, having won two of the season’s three contests and earning a third in the other.
Manuel was set for a very difficult round four heat with Courtney Conlogue, who was looking like the in-form surfer of the event. But during a free surf, Conlogue injured her ankle and was forced to pull out of Tuesday’s heat, giving Manuel a free pass into the quarterfinals. Conlogue called the decision “devastating,” but necessary to ensure her health moving forward.
In the quarters, Manuel surfed a great heat and held a lead over Sally Fitzgibbons with just a few minutes remaining. Needing a 7.18, Fitzgibbons let one wave go, but paddled into a nice wave with plenty of open face and showed two great turns before staying patient and driving through the rest of the wave with sharp carves. Her style and ease on the turns showed confidence and, though it took a while for the judges to post a number, it came out to an 8.77 score. Now needing an 8.61, Manuel was at the mercy of the ocean with just a couple minutes remaining. She got a wave in the final minute, but it only allowed for two turns, sending Fitzgibbons to the semifinals with a 17.10 to 15.50 victory.
For Blanchard, after a third place in her opening heat, she faced off with Lakey Peterson in round two. It turned into a pretty dominant performance for the Californian, who was tenaciously picking off the best waves from the start. More than 10 minutes into the heat, Blanchard was still looking for her first wave, though Peterson had a pair of good scores for a 13.60 tally.
Blanchard had a strong wave going with a pair of high turns and a few cutbacks, but she fell off the lip on her final turn and wasn’t able to finish it off. She still got a 5.90, but it could have put a much bigger dent into the deficit had she stayed on her board. She later added a 6.00 with a two-turn wave, but it was another questionable choice with priority. Peterson put herself further out in front, blasting a 9.17 ride to put Blanchard in a combination position. She held on from there with a 17.17 to 11.90 final score.
That makes three fifths for Manuel and three thirteenths for Blanchard. Manuel sits in sixth place for the season and Blanchard has a lot of ground to make up, now in 17th place. For Blanchard, it is a reversal from last season when she reached the quarters in her first two events and the fourth round in her third. She is definitely capable of those types of results, but the tour is tougher this year. Moore has become a dominant force, but Wright, Fitzgibbons and a healthy Stephanie Gilmore, along with Peterson and Conlogue emerging as title contenders, have made things very congested at the top. That’s without even considering the sophomore improvement of Bianca Biutendag and the tenacity of rookie Dimity Stoyle. All the women seem to have found their niches and the first three events have played out similarly. We’ll see if that continues the rest of the year.
On the men’s side, it’s now back-to-back Equal 13th results for Kilauea’s Sebastian Zietz, which is an important step up from the 25th he got in the season opener. Zietz was knocked out in the third round at Bells by South African powerhouse Jordy Smith. When he’s on his game and focused, Smith is clearly among the world’s elite. He was on this day, taking over the heat with his first wave, a huge face that gave him the chance at three turns well overhead. He finished it off on the inside section and claimed it at the end, getting a 9.57 from the judges.
Seabass surfed a terrific heat, even picking up a 9.00 to keep himself in the mix, crushing four big turns and nailing the finish. It would have been good enough against many, but not Smith on this day as Smith took the heat, 17.44 to 15.50.
The men were down to five surfers as of press time, with Taj Burrow and Oahu’s John John Florence set to square off in the first semifinal and Julian Wilson awaiting either Mick Fanning or Owen Wright in the second semifinal.
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