Careers In the Balance at Billabong Pipeline Masters
The swell might be down but there have several historic occasions going down this past week. A teenager in her rookie season has won a coveted ASP World Crown and a legend has finally hung up the boardies after a record setting career.
At Honolua Bay Stephanie Gilmore fulfilled her quest for a maiden World Title. Stephanie began the year in the pro junior division and concluded it atop the highest peak n world surfing. Going into the 3rd round of the Billabong Maui Pro there were three strong contenders for the title.
Over a dynamic few hours at the Bay fortunes fluctuated wildly. Sofia and Steph were locked together at the helm of the ratings race. With Sofia leading off in any given round at this final event, there would be added pressure placed on Steph, who would have to match Sofia’s every advancement just to remain incrementally behind on adjusted ratings.
However, if Sofia lost then advantage went Stephanie’s way in a rush. With Keala Kennelly posting a 9.90 straight off the bat Sofia was in deep trouble, eventually succumbing to Keala’s barrage. Steph began her match with retiree Rochelle Ballard with an outstanding 9.8 to diffuse any sense of real drama.
This would arrive later when last remaining title contender Silvana Lima looked certain to carry the title decider over to the last day, only to have Roseanne Hodge snatch victory with a last gasp effort, the shock and realization of a premature title moment hitting home as the heat was counted out fro the ten second mark.
What an achievement, being crowned World Champion in a rookie season. Stephanie did not take long to announce her aspirations, winning her second start, the Rip Curl Pro Bells, followed by two more victories. To cap off the perfect season Stephanie then went on to claim her 4th win of the year by defeating defending event champion at the Billabong Pro Maui.
Stephanie basically grew up under the direct influence of Cooly kids Joel Parkinson, Mick Fanning and Dean Morrison. Molded by the long southern Gold Coast point breaks, Steph developed a smooth as silk style, her repertoire punctuated nicely by a decidedly Parko-esque approach.
With the town just settling down from the Mick Fanning celebration, I can just see the chief of security at Coolangatta Airport shaking his head. “Here we go again, " the fanning return even had the obligatory streaker, who knows what’ll happen when an actual teenager gets home.
From all at ASP, congratulations Steph, a brilliant World Championship campaign!
Meanwhile, over on Oahu there remains a matrix of combinations as the final qualifying positions are contested. With the points spread between #20 and #35 being relatively minuscule, anything can happen. Guys like Cory Lopez, Phil MacDonald, Josh Kerr, Bernardo Pigmeau, Fred Pattachia, Chris Ward, Neco Padaratz, Bruce Irons and Troy Brooks are surfing for their careers. None of these have been anywhere near the Top 20 this year but could land on the right side of the Top 27 bubble with a good result.
All are still alive in the Billabong Pipeline Masters, with varying degrees of uncertainty. Bruce, Wardo, Neco and Macca definitely improved their chances by advancing to the 4th round, while the others need more rounds under their belt to breathe a little easier. It will be a real gut wrencher for the likes of Luke Munro, Adriano de Souza, Ricky Basnett and Danny Wills, who are out of Pipe and could be leapfrogged by the horde.
There are several absorbing duels being played out beyond the qualifying scenario. Jeremy Flores and Kai Otton have been waging a phenomenal battle for ASP Rookie of the Year honours. This also will come down to final standings in the Billabong Pipeline Masters.
The Vans Triple Crown is also drawing to a conclusion. Neither Bede Durbidge or Mick Fanning have won it before, in fact you’d have to go all the way back to the 90’s for the last Aussie winner in Mike Rommelse. Mick has obviously cleaned up in 07 and Bede is actually in a tussle with defending Pipe and Triple Crown champ Andy Irons for the coveted #5 position on the World rankings.
There is also the small matter of who finishes runner-up to Mick Fanning. With little hope of a blockbuster Pipeline finish the Backdoor will likely dominate proceedings on the last day, both Taj and Kelly in fine fettle last time they were in action in the early rounds. And Parko has an outside shot at #3, so the top guys will be keeping each other pretty honest, the Title is gone but at the end of the day Top 3 is always a nice consolation.
Four days remaining in the season, one running day required to conclude the Billabong Pipeline Masters.
Good luck to all scenario hunters.