ASP underway in Portugal with women’s world title implications

Just two events remain before the 2014 women’s World Championship Tour season is officially pau, but the scenarios are still plentiful. The first round of the Cascais Women’s Pro in Cascais, Portugal finished up Thursday and the one woman who could clinch the world title this week was the only one who didn’t win her first-round heat.

Coming into the ninth of this year’s 10 events, five-time champion Stephanie Gilmore would pick up her sixth career title with a win in Portugal and specific results for Tyler Wright, Sally Fitzgibbons and Carissa Moore. Wright would need to do no better than an Equal Fifth and neither Fitzgibbons nor Moore could make the final heat.

While that seems to be an unlikely scenario, it’s the only way that this world championship race – the tightest in ASP history – could come to an end before the year’s final event in Maui. Those four will be battling it out for supremacy, but Gilmore will now have the toughest road in Portugal. She was bested in the first round by fellow Aussie Laura Enever and will have to take on local wild card Teresa Bonvalot in the elimination second round. Wright, Fitzgibbons and Moore all won their opening heats to advance directly into the third round.

Malia Manuel and Alana Blanchard will face each other in the second round after both Kauai wahine finished third in their opening heats. Manuel went up against the French duo of Pauline Ado and Johanne Defay. Defay just knocked Manuel out in the quarterfinals at last week’s Roxy Pro France, but this time it was Ado who got the most love from the judges. Ado impressed with a nice two-turn left, really getting vertical on the first carve for a 7.50 on her way to a 13.00 total.

In third place, Manuel needed a 7.04 late in the heat and went to work on a left. She did all she could with the choppy surf but the wave wasn’t very impressive and it resulted in a 5.84, keeping her in third place. It’s not an uncommon situation for Manuel this season. We’re used to seeing her in the second round, but she’s gone on to win five of her six elimination heats under those circumstances. In France she knocked out Blanchard in round two and the pair now faces off again in Portugal.

Blanchard had a very tough lineup for her first heat as she took on Wright and Courtney Conlogue. All three are probably surfing as well as they have all season. Wright picked up the event win in France and Conlogue reached the semifinals for the first time this year. Although she was again eliminated in round two, Blanchard appeared more confident in her wave selection and more determined in her maneuvering in France than at many of the stops this season. Wright came out on top Thursday, slamming a 9.43 on her final wave of the heat and moving past Conlogue, who had been holding first place.

No Hawaii surfers were victorious in round one, so all four will have to take their chances in round two. Manuel and Blanchard face one another, Coco Ho has a must-watch heat against Conlogue and Alessa Quizon is up against the red-hot Defay. The other three matchups are the Aussie pair of Dimity Stoyle and Nikki Van Dijk, Gilmore against Bonvalot and South Africa’s Bianca Buitendag against New Zealand’s Paige Hareb.

All action from Cascais can be streamed online (www.aspworldtour.com) and will be shown in its entirety on Oceanic Surf channels 250 and 1250 once the men complete the Quiksilver Pro France.

As for the men, they were down to 12 surfers heading into Thursday night’s fifth round (Friday morning in France). John John Florence was set to face Mick Fanning in the first heat, with Josh Kerr then taking on Matt Wilkinson, Filipe Toledo facing fellow Brazilian Jadson Andre and Kelly Slater going up against Taj Burrow. Those eight are each hoping to join Kolohe Andino, current world No. 1 Gabriel Medina, Miguel Pupo and Jordy Smith already into the quarterfinals.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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