Top-seeded surfers entering the water at Phillip Island, Australia, on day three of the Roxy Women’s Surf Festival have managed to survive a strong challenge by the sport’s future stars contesting the blue-ribbon five-star World Qualifying Series division.
Former event champion (2005) and current world ranked number two Mel Redman-Carr (AUS), former world number two Megan Abubo (pictured below) and WCT surfer Claire Bevilacqua (AUS) were among those who scraped through their opening heats in solid 1.5 – 2 metre waves at Flynn’s Reef.
Redman-Carr was forced into second place when she tied with relative unknown Brasilian Suelen Naraisa on 14.00 points; the pair advancing ahead of Aussie Kim Wooldridge (NSW) and New Zealand’s Paige Hareb.
Abubo managed to overcome the pain of a severely bruised tail bone incurred while snowboarding last week in the USA. The 28 year-old added insult to injury with one of the most spectacular wipeouts of the day but did enough to finish ahead of runner-up Lyndsay Baldwin (USA) who advanced behind Abubo in second, with Jenny Quam (USA), eliminated in third, and Mischa Davis (NZL), fourth.
Bevilacqua meanwhile snuck into second in the dying stages of her heat with a final ride of 3.27 points to advance behind heat winner Kyla Langdon of the USA. Early event stand-out Alize Arnaud of France was eliminated in third, with fellow country-woman Amandine Sanchez (FRA) also bowing out in fourth.
“The standard is at a really high level, there’s all these new, young fresh faces. You’ve got to be prepared with you’re A-game. You can’t slack off because they’ll get you," said Bevilacqua.
The impressive performance of 17 year-old ASP Australasian Junior Champion Airini Mason (NZ) was no exception. Mason proved she has what it takes to reach surfing’s highest levels by out-pointing two world-ranked opponents in the form of France’s Caroline Sarran (FRA) and South African Rosy Hodge (ZAF). In doing so, Mason also ended the impressive run of Hawaii’s Bethany Hamilton (Kauai, HI) in round four.
“Having a couple of WCT surfers in the heat made it tough, and Bethany she’s been surfing so well and has been such an inspiration, it’s a relief to get through," said Mason. Defending Roxy Women’s Surf Festival champion Stephanie Gilmore (AUS), turned the tide for the big names, joining 2005 World Champion Chelsea Georgeson (AUS) as one of the few names to lock in decisive heat wins.
Gilmore’s total score of 12.34 points may have not been near the tournament’s highest, but the 18 year-old natural foot dominated the heat by catching the biggest and best waves, leaving her opponents with little to play with. Bronte’s Nicola Atherton (NSW, AUS) advanced behind Gilmore in second on 10.40.
“That was actually the first heat I’ve surfed for the new season. I’m not under pressure as far as points go because I’ve already qualified for the WCT this year, but there’s some pressure being the defending champion. I’m just really happy to get the first heat out of the way for the year," explained Gilmore (pictured below).
Georgeson’s renowned backhand was in fine tune in the overhead conditions, the former two-time event champion blasting her way to the highest two-wave combined WQS heat score of 16.34 points. Her nearest opponent, Serena Brooke (Gold Coast, Qld AUS) would have won most other heats of the day, but had to settle for second on 15.66 points.
2005 World Champion Sofia Mulanovich (Peru) also surfed a tidy heat to advance comfortably ahead of another former world champion, Pauline Menczer (AUS).
In the highly contested Under 18 amateur division, current Quiksilver U/16 Australian Grommet Champion Laura Enever (NSW) and Quiksilver U/18 Australian Grommet Champion Sally Fitzgibbons (NSW) again highlighted why they are the most talked about junior female surfers in the country.
Both girls have entered three divisions in the week long Festival and today their experience shone through as they outclassed their rivals in their respective Under 18 heats. Fifteen-year-old Enever left the water all smiles, having locked in the highest individual wave score of the event so far, an excellent 9.17 out of a possible perfect 10. Enever’s two-wave combined heat-score also stands as the tournament’s highest with 17.17 points.
Woolgoolga’s Kirra Townsend (AUS) trailed Enever by nearly 10 points but still advanced behind the Sydney-sider in second on 8.40 points, with locals Sophie Collins (Vic) eliminated in third on 1.70 points and Ella Garth (Vic) in fourth on 0.67 points
Fitzgibbons was as dominant against another of the Festival’s early standouts, European champion Alize Arnaud (France). The 16 year-old natural footer adapted quickly to the Flynn’s line-up in her first outing at the reef break, to amass a five point buffer between herself and Arnaud, Fitzgibbons exiting the water on 12.66 points for her best two waves to Arnaud’s 7.87.
Local hopeful Nina Van Dijk (Phillip Island, Vic) was eliminated on 5.94 points with Francis Kris also eliminated in fourth. The Roxy Women’s Surfing Festival is Australia’s biggest celebration of women’s surfing bringing together a huge cross section of participants contesting seven divisions.