Sally Fitzgibbons, Stephanie Gilmore, and Tyler Wright led the Top 17's charge on Dee Why Point's little slab on Thursday at the 2012 Commonwealth Bank Beachley Classic in Sydney, Australia. After a horrendously soggy lay day of an opener, the fourth stop on the ASP Women's World Tour got under way in fitful 3- to 5-foot surf. The rips, reef, and heaving lip constituted a handful of the hazards surfers faced during Round 1 and the early heats of Round 2 -- the evidence was in the wipeouts.
Tyler Wright surfed with her usual alacrity and impeccable control in her first-round heat against Sofia Mulanovich and Sage Erickson -- both of whom were on their games. Erickson muscled her way into the lead with an 8.50, but Wright began accumulating her 16.65 points shortly after on reforms, doing technical cutbacks and even a hands-free air that she landed. Unfortunately, it was on the wrong side of the wave. At one point, she was swallowed by foam and emerged with one heck of an emphatic hair flick that perfectly demonstrated her "just take it as it comes" approach to the wave.
"The bad ones are really bad, but if you can get one of those sets that hold up on the reef properly and run all the way through, it's kind of good," she said. "But you've really got to judge what you're doing and be careful in some sections because it is so shallow. I know Laura, in the heat before us, looked like she got absolutely smashed."
In the first heat of the day, Laura Enever fearlessly airdropped straight into the pit. The view from the beach: her heels hit the sky just before the lip crashed on top of them.
"I just surf it, try to read it the best I can, and hope for the best," Wright continued. "[This] is a good first round heat, but it's the first round, so you're just having fun. I really did enjoy that -- I think you could tell in my surfing."
New South Wales native Sally Fitzgibbons took to the fast, hollow conditions with near perfection in the fifth heat of Round 1, scoring the day's highest two-wave total: 18.65. Rookie Malia Manuel launched into action with her usual style and knack for choosing great waves. She earned back-to-back 6-pointers early in the heat, but 25 minutes later, she and Jacqueline Silva were relegated to combo land at the hands of an amped-up Fitzgibbons.
"It was a good round there with Malia, she was dropping high scores, so I really had to go out there and attack it," Fitzgibbons said. In tricky waves, wise equipment selection is vital and Sally Fitzgibbons says her board of choice on Thursday had a similar profile to what she was riding last year. "I surfed a few others in my free surf, but this seems to be my comfort zone. I've been surfing it in New Zealand and also down at Bells. It's feeling good."
Top seed Gilmore also rode a trusted board that's delivered wins at Snapper and Taranaki this year. In her third-heat matchup against Sarah Mason and wildcard Nikki Van Dijk (who also gained entry into the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach), Gilmore tucked into the dumping barrels and carefully carved her way to a 17.75 total. It wasn't an easy victory. She cut her elbow on the reef and Mason sustained a nasty thump to her cheek. "She fully slammed her face on the reef," Gilmore said of her opponent.
"Dee Why Point, when it's on, is like a world-class wave. I wouldn't call it 'on' out there," she laughed. "This stop is challenging for everyone because you just don't know what you're going to get. My equipment is incredible right now. I'm really enjoying my surfboards and I feel strong."
Californians Lakey Peterson and Courtney Conlogue also advanced straight to the third round, along with defending champ Carissa Moore. Hawaiians Coco Ho and Manuel are the first two who've made it through the second round gauntlet -- both after nail-biter heats in slightly deteriorated conditions.
"I'm relieved -- again," Manuel said, smiling. "The conditions got really difficult and you had to do what you had to do. I'd have been a lot happier if it wasn't [a win over] Sage, my teammate, but yeah, I'm just living to another day. Hopefully, we see good conditions in the morning tomorrow."
COMMONWEALTH BANK BEACHLEY CLASSIC ROUND 1 RESULTS:
HEAT 1: Lakey Peterson (USA) 12.75, Pauline Ado (FRA) 8.50, Laura Enever (AUS) 6.40
HEAT 2: Tyler Wright (AUS) 16.65, Sage Erickson (USA) 13.05, Sofia Mulanovich (PER) 8.70
HEAT 3: Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 17.75, Nikki Van Dijk (AUS) 14.10, Sarah Mason (NZL)
HEAT 4: Carissa Moore (HAW) 14.05, Coco Ho (HAW) 13.50, Justine Dupont (FRA) 5.40
HEAT 5: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 18.65, Malia Manuel (HAW) 15.60, Jacqueline Silva (BRA) 4.10
HEAT 6: Courtney Conlogue (USA) 14.00, Rebecca Woods (AUS) 12.35, Paige Hareb (NZL) 8.75
COMMONWEALTH BANK BEACHLEY CLASSIC ROUND 2 RESULTS:
HEAT 1: Coco Ho (HAW) 12.05 def. Pauline Ado (FRA) 11.85
HEAT 2: Malia Manuel (HAW) 10.20 def. Sage Erickson (USA) 9.10
REMAINING COMMONWEALTH BANK BEACHLEY CLASSIC ROUND 2 MATCH-UPS:
HEAT 3: Laura Enever (AUS) vs. Nikki Van Dijk (AUS)
HEAT 4: Paige Hareb (NZL) vs. Justine Dupont (FRA)
HEAT 5: Sofia Mulanovich (PER) vs. Jacqueline Silva (BRA)
HEAT 6: Sarah Mason (NZL) vs. Rebecca Woods (AUS)