"Good Friday! Let's go eat some hot cross buns!" Steph Gilmore said cheerfully after her Round 4 win Friday at the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach. At the official start of Easter weekend -- the busiest weekend in Torquay, Australia -- the beach was packed to capacity and spectators were treated to some truly elite surfing in clean 3-to-5-foot waves.
After nearly a week of negotiating chilly, overhead Victorian sets (and shore break), a few of the girls were discretely sporting bandages: Gilmore tweaked her ankle and Sarah Mason has no idea what she did to her wrist, "Some kind of twist. It's only a wrist," she laughed, "not a leg." Nonetheless, performance levels were through the proverbial roof and at the end of the day, the quarterfinalists were set.
It was just past high-tide and a virtually windless Rincon was firing as Mason, an alternate, became the last goofy standing. In the first heat of the day, she snuck up on fellow Kiwi Paige Hareb, who made many an impressive floater and hack -- and more or less dominated the heat, until Mason pulled a couple huge maneuvers. She ended up besting Hareb by just under two points.
"I'm so stoked to get to the quarters, and just to be given the opportunity," Mason said. "I really want to make the most of it and do the best I can."
The wind went offshore and the waves started showing off for the cameras as Gilmore entered the water in heat two with a taped-up ankle.
"In one of my earlier heats, I hit that shore [break], which is the most frustrating place," she said. "You see everyone getting bucked off in these weird places. When you hit it, it's like all the force of the bay is right on that sand, so it was just a little tweak thing. It's not much."
It certainly didn't slow her down in her Round 4 heat against Laura Enever. Gilmore opened with a 7.17 and backed it up with a crowd-pleasing 10, as she serpentined from Rincon to the shore. Enever busted out a couple of big roundhouse cutbacks, but was relegated to the dreaded combo situation for the rest of the heat.
"That may be my first perfect 10 at Bells!" Gilmore said, smiling. "They put the girls on and the wind turned offshore."
Gilmore faces Malia Manuel in the upcoming quarterfinals, "Rematch! Malia's an amazing surfer. In our Round 3 heat she was on fire, getting all the best waves. I'm definitely going to feel a little more comfortable with the priority system and I'm going to have to step it up again," Gilmore said.
Speaking of stepping it up, Coco Ho is really good at getting a jump start on her opponents; she always seems to get a decent wave under her belt within the first five minutes, and today was no exception. About midway through heat three, Courtney Conlogue soared along the face of a striking wave and picked up an 8.83, which bumped Ho from her comfy first-place position. Ho wasn't flustered. She merely added another 8-point ride to her tally and took back the lead, though she is the first to admit that Conlogue made her nervous.
"I knew if anyone was going to be challenging in these conditions today, it was Courtney. She just loves getting on a bigger board and having that bigger face and, yeah, I do, too," Ho laughed.
The fourth heat seemed like it was going to be a dud when the ocean went out for dinner. Halfway through, neither Lakey Peterson nor Sofia Mulanovich had a score over 3.0. Then, with about 10 minutes remaining, the pair volleyed the lead with a slurry of good-to-excellent scores. Mulanovich cranked out an 8.40 in the last minute, but Peterson had already stacked back-to-back 8 and 7-pointers, and got the pass to the quarters.
"The first 17 minutes were flat. It was the weirdest thing," Peterson said. "When they started coming, they were really good waves. It was just kind of a waiting game. Just to better the result I had at Snapper is good because I wasn't very happy with my performance there, so it's good to be into the quarters and I'm excited to surf against Sally again."
RIP CURL WOMEN'S PRO BELLS BEACH ROUND 4 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Sarah Mason (NZL) 15.84 def. Paige Hareb (NZL) 13.94
Heat 2: Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 17.17 def. Laura Enever (AUS)
Heat 3: Coco Ho (HAW) 15.77 def. Courtney Conlogue (USA) 14.50
Heat 4: Lakey Peterson (USA) 15.43 def. Sofia Mulanovich (PER) 11.73
RIP CURL WOMEN'S PRO BELLS BEACH QUARTERFINAL MATCH-UPS:
QF 1: Tyler Wright (AUS) vs. Sarah Mason (NZL)
QF 2: Malia Manuel (HAW) vs. Stephanie Gilmore (AUS)
QF 3: Carissa Moore (HAW) vs. Coco Ho (HAW)
QF 4: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) vs. Lakey Peterson (USA)