Even for a QS6000 event, the Hurley Australian Open of Surfing was probably as tough a field as the women will have to face all year. Because of the location and prestige, just about all of the Championship Tour heavyweights took part at Sydney’s Manly Beach site, as did all the Qualifying Series hopefuls trying to pick up those important points towards a 2016 CT berth. The Aussies grabbed most of the headlines and produced an all-local final, but Kauai’s Tatiana Weston-Webb took third place and will move to the top of the WQS rankings.
About to begin her first full season on the CT, Weston-Webb has a pair of third-place finishes in her first two QS6000 contests. That start will be strong enough to vault her into first place for the newest QS ranks. She qualified for this year’s CT via her 2014 QS finish and continuing to pile up results will ease some pressure in the upcoming CT season.
Weston-Webb had to take out some very familiar faces on the way to the semifinals. She first went up against Oahu’s Alessa Quizon in round five. The pair has frequently sparred in the QS and were both fighting for the final two qualification spots on this year’s tour. Tati has had the upper hand recently and continued that trend with a decisive win. Her 13.50 two-wave total left Quizon needing a 9.23, but the CT sophomore struggled to find anything of consequence and finished with a ninth-place result.
Up next in the quarterfinals was a matchup between two of Kauai’s four wahine in the contest. Tati took on Malia Manuel, who has gone from a dominant QS performer to now knocking on the door of the world title contenders. Manuel eliminated local favorite and world No. 4 Sally Fitzgibbons in the fifth round to set up the Garden Isle showdown.
Tati was the busier of the two early, but Manuel’s patience resulted in a 6.17 on her first ride to take the lead. Weston-Webb quickly countered with a 7.00 to move back ahead, but Manuel’s 7.60 at the 12-minute mark changed the lead once more. Needing a 6.81 to regain the advantage, Tati continued to find the best waves and sharply carve up the face as she slammed an 8.60 with five minutes left. That was the decisive wave and gave her a 15.60 to 13.77 win for a spot in the final four. Manuel’s fifth-place result nets her 2,650 points in her first QS contest of the year.
It was another nail-biter in the semis for Tati against her third straight CT opponent, Laura Enever. The two traded jabs until Enever took the lead at the eight-minute mark. Needing a 6.09, Weston-Webb continued to scour the lineup and paddled into everything she could get to. Without priority, she had to take what Enever didn’t want, but with less than a minute remaining it almost materialized. Tati took off on a choppy right and slammed a huge turn to the top of the lip, floated just a bit and landed in the whitewater. She wasn’t totally visible on the landing, but emerged on her board with her arms outstretched, trying to sell the finish. The judges weren’t believers and ruled it an incomplete for just a 1.60, putting Enever into the final against Tyler Wright.
It proved to be Enever’s day as she survived another last-minute wave when Wright went down needing 7.00 in the closing seconds. Enever was 0 for 7 in heats against Wright on last year’s CT and had not won a contest since 2010, so it was a very sweet victory on her home turf with lots of friends and family in attendance. Enever picks up 6,000 QS points, which will propel her all the way into the top three. Wright was so close to the victory but had a big smile and hug for Enever as the two friends emerged from the water.
The men’s draw also concluded Saturday, which was Sunday locally. Hawaii’s participants didn’t fare as well with most having been knocked out early. Freddy Patacchia went the farthest with a quarterfinal appearance, losing to Stu Kennedy. American Kolohe Andino ultimately took home the title, topping young Tahitian Mateia Hiquily in the final. It’s a huge result for Hiquily, who finished 2014 ranked 165th in the world.
Both Championship Tours get under way in a couple weeks with the men’s Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast and the women’s Roxy Pro Gold Coast on Feb. 28.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.