Landing in Taranaki

The Kiwi comes home. Paige Hareb was ripping, but will have to surf round two. ASP/Robertson

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3

Maybe the ladies were inspired by the chilly, 62-degree water or the traditional Maori welcoming ceremony, but the first day of the 2012 NZ Surf Fest was thick with boosts, carves, and barrels. Aussies dominated round one as Steph Gilmore and Laura Enever boasted heat totals above 17.0 and Tyler Wright nearly completed a lofty single-grab air. American Courtney Conlogue finished off an explosive day with her stellar heat six performance, which earned her the third highest heat total.

The Dow AgroSciences Pro, part of the TSB Bank New Zealand Surf Festival, is the third stop on the ASP Women's World Tour. On Wednesday, Fitzroy Beach in New Plymouth, NZ offered fun 2 to 4-foot waves and light off- to sideshore winds.

For the first time in history, three Kiwi women competed in an ASP World Tour event, and two of them drew Steph Gilmore in the first round. Luckily for the Kiwi contingent round one is non-elimination. In the last five minutes, Gilmore, who had been picking off some of the smaller ones that walled up nicely, flawlessly executed a massive roundhouse cutback and a grab-rail reverse 360. On the next wave, she actually got the day's lone barrel and then sealed in an excellent score with a little ollie, just missing Sally Fitzgibbons as she entered the water. Sarah Mason threw a little air, though she didn't quite stick it, and then the pair split a peak--at opposite ends of Fitzroy Beach, each tried a different type of punt, causing the grommies in front of me to note, "It's a good comp, eh?"
16-year-old wildcard Gaby Sansom will join Mason in round two.

"I can crouch pretty low," Gilmore said. "I'm pretty tall, but the days of growing up at Greenmount and Rainbow Bay, surfing tiny, little barrels... My friends used to pay me out, because they used to think I would like fold up. But nah, it wasn't really a barrel--it was just a shampoo."

Laura Enever led a non-stop opening heat, trying to better her recent second and ninth place finishes so far this year. She completed five or six snaps on a single wave, carried off big backside re-entries and hacks, frontside carves, and mega floaters. There weren't many maneuvers she didn't pull, and her score reflected the breadth of her dexterity: a 17.05, second only to Gilmore's 17.75.

"Starting off with a second, I guess you could say I was in the title race," Enever said, "and I want to try and finish as high up as I can, so I'm just taking it heat by heat. I grew up at North Narrabeen, which is a lefthander and to surf little lefts like this, it's so fun. They're just so rippable. I haven't surfed a left in a long time--it's almost refreshing."

Tyler Wright and Coco Ho split a peak at the start of heat two, and then another one. Ho's surfing was in harmony with the waves, while Wright's assaulted them--the result was a mesmerizing exchange. Suddenly, Wright launched an epic frontside air, and almost pulled it off. It turned heads, that's for sure.

"The wind's not really right for it, but the section presented itself and I thought, 'If I can grab it right, I could pull it off,' but I didn't. I was just muckin' around, anyway," Wright said modestly. "I've been watching Owen too much," she laughed.
Defending NZ Pro champ and Bells winner Sally Fitzgibbons soared through the fourth heat and earned the right to skip Round 2 for the third time in three comps.

Interference was called on Sofia Mulanovich in the sixth and final heat of the day when she and Pauline Ado rode within a meter of each other for a few moments. Meanwhile, Courtney Conlogue was busy popping her fins and accumulating 7-pointers.

"This is very similar to Newport or Huntington," Conlogue said, "so I've had quite a bit of practice in this kind of surf. The forecast for the next few days looks fun, so I'm really looking forward to those next heats."

Heat 1: Laura Enever (AUS) 17.05, Malia Manuel (HAW) 14.50, Rebecca Woods (AUS) 10.75
Heat 2: Tyler Wright (AUS) 15.00, Coco Ho (HAW) 13.65, Jacqueline Silva (BRA) 6.00
Heat 3: Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 17.75, Sarah Mason (NZL) 9.34, Gaby Sansom (NZL) 4.00
Heat 4: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 14.60, Lakey Peterson (USA) 12.95, Justine Dupont (FRA) 9.80
Heat 5: Sage Erickson (USA) 11.50, Carissa Moore (HAW) 10.50, Paige Hareb (NZL) 8.63
Heat 6: Courtney Conlogue (USA) 15.15, Pauline Ado (FRA) 12.50, Sofia Mulanovich (PER) 8.70