Punchy 1- 1.5 metre waves were on offer at the picturesque beach of Praia da Tiririca for Round 1 of the Billabong Girls Pro Itacaré, Brazil.
After a four month hiatus from ASP Women’s World Tour competition, World No. 3 Sofia Mulanovich (PER), World No. 4 Samantha Cornish (AUS) and World No. 10 Melanie Bartels (HAW) kick started Round 1, in the first heat of the day. And if Round 1 of the Billabong Girls Pro Itacaré is any indication of what we can expect for the remainder of the 2007 ASP Women’s World Tour, the battle between ratings leaders Chelsea Hedges (AUS) and Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) is set to be fierce.
Hedges set the benchmark for her fellow competitors when she opened her account with a near perfect 9.50 (out of a possible 10.00) and followed it with a 9.00 leaving her opponents Nicola Atherton (AUS) and Jacqueline Silva (BRA) needing a combination of good scorning rides to catch her.
“I was just lucky,” Hedges said. “It’s one of those places where if you’re in the right spot at the right time and those waves come through, it can make or break the heat. I caught a right and paddled back out and a left came straight to me and I thought. ‘I can’t not go!’ It’s just a matter of being in the right position out there.”
Hedges, the 2005 ASP Women’s World Champion, shares the World No. 1 spot with travel-buddy and rookie title contender Gilmore. The day’s high scorer is well aware that she cannot give Gilmore an inch, and as her Round 1 performance proved, is thoroughly enjoying the challenge.
“It’s awesome!” Hedges said. “This is the first year in a while that I’ve felt really, really motivated and I guess I needed someone like Steph to come along and amp things up. I love it, it’s great for women’s surfing and it makes me push myself even harder.”
Gilmore was equally as fired up about the battle for the ratings lead, emerging as one of the day’s top scorers with an excellent 8.50 ride, to defeat Caroline Sarran (FRA) and Jessi Miley Dyer (AUS).
“Chels and I are staying together which is pretty crazy but it’s going great,” Gilmore said. “We’re good mates and we love surfing together because we push each other and we just want to surf better. It’s great traveling together but when a heat is on we know that we’re going to do whatever it takes to win.”
Gilmore, one of the most progressive and influential girls on the ASP Women’s World Tour at present, will be watched closely by her rivals as she progresses through the upcoming rounds. “It’s about pushing the limits, going for big moves and getting out of your comfort zone,” Gilmore said. “There is no doubt that all the girls are going out there with a different frame of mind at this event and everyone will be looking to step it up.”
World No. 4 Rebecca Woods (AUS) joined Hedges and Gilmore in pushing the limits on Monday. The former ASP World Qualifying Series (WQS) champion posted the second highest two-wave heat total of the day (14.25 out of a possible 20.00) to dispose of local favorite Silvana Lima (BRA) and fellow Australian Claire Bevilaqcua.
“The waves are really hard,” Woods said. “They can be all over the place but if you get the right one, you’re stoked. That’s what happened to me today, so I’m really pleased and just looking forward to Round 3.”
Surfers finishing 1st and 2nd in the three-woman heats go straight to Round 3. The third place surfer in each of the six Round 1 heats surfs Round 2 and faces early elimination.
Defending Billabong Girls Pro Champion Layne Beachley (AUS) had an adrenaline charged start to her Billabong Girls Pro Itacare campaign when she was locked out of her hotel room and almost missed her heat.
“I paddled out late because I came down to watch Chelsea’s heat this morning and left my room unlocked,” Beachley explained. “When I came back the cleaner had locked it and my key was inside – I thought I was going to miss my heat completely. I wasn’t really aware of where I was going to surf so I just resorted to where I surfed last year and fortunately it paid off.”
Despite her shaky start, Beachley defeated Hawaii’s Megan Abubo and Rochelle Ballard to advance directly to Round 3. “It’s my first heat since Bells when I lost against Sofia in the Semifinals,” Beachley said. “It’s been a four month hiatus and I think I’ve got a bit of work to do! It felt good to get started though and the conditions were pretty good out there.”
Round 1 Billabong Girls Pro Brazil Results:
Heat 1: Melanie Bartels (HAW) 11.10, Samantha Cornish (AUS) 10.90, Sofia Mulanovich (PER) 6.50
Heat 2: Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 14.00, Caroline Sarran (FRA) 8.60, Jessi Miley Dyer (AUS) 8.35
Heat 3: Chelsea Hedges (AUS) 18.50, Jacqueline Silva (BRA) 10.60, Nicola Atherton (AUS) 8.25
Heat 4: Layne Beachley (AUS) 12.75, Megan Abubo (HAW) 9.85, Rochelle Ballard (HAW) 8.75
Heat 5: Amee Donohoe (AUS) 11.65, Melanie Redman-Carr (AUS) 9.75, Roseanne Hodge (ZAF) 7.50
Heat 6: Rebecca Woods (AUS) 14.25, Silvana Lima (BRA) 13.45, Claire Bevilacqua (AUS) 11.80
Round 2 Billabong Girls Pro Brazil Match-Ups:
Heat 1: Sofia Mulanovich (PER, Roseanne Hodge (ZAF), Jessi Nicola Atherton (AUS)
Heat 2: Rochelle Ballard (HAW), Miley Dyer (AUS), Claire Bevilacqua (AUS)