The Aussies are claiming jet lag, but Steph Gilmore, Sally Fitzgibbons and Laura Enever didn't look even remotely fatigued as they escaped the second round of the Billabong Rio Pro on Thursday. Gilmore's 16.70 was the highest two-wave total of the day, closely followed by Coco Ho's 16.57 in heat six.
High-octane wasn't the name of the game at Arpoador in the morning. The chest-high cerulean swells looked pretty, but swallowed more than a few of the elite ladies as the top seeds fought to stay afloat.
"They called the contest on and I was really worried," Gilmore said after her second heat win over Melanie Bartels. "I was praying and hoping that they would say, 'Oh no, the forecast tomorrow's going to be 6-foot and perfect, but it just wasn't to be, so we had to go out there and just deal with it. I wasn't expecting a couple of eights. I don't know, it kind of started pulsing in our heat. We both got pretty high scores and I'm happy to get through round two."
Current No. 2 Fitzgibbons continued, "Conditions today are definitely a little bit tricky, but everyone's in the same boat."
Running comps in 1- to 3-foot surf isn't really ideal, but the women's window closes Sunday and, as Sally Fitz mentioned, the forecast is looking grim. Conditions are expected to get worse before they get better -- on Monday. Thursday's result was a heap of unusually low heat totals.
"A third maneuver out there today is impressive," commentator Ronnie Blakey observed.
Contest director Luke Egan said he and Gilmore, who's acting as the women's rep, didn't think it was a great idea to have three-person heats in the water with so few waves coming through, despite the press to finish by Sunday. By the fifth heat, most of the waves were about knee-high, and in heat six, Coco Ho and Sarah Mason only caught five waves between them. Which makes Ho's pair of eights that much more notable.
Like all of the girls on Tour, Ho is concerned with re-qualifying for 2013. In her three years on Tour, she's never finished below seventh place, and the requirement to re-qualify is a place in the Top 10. She's had sort of a rocky first half of the season, but today, Ho again demonstrated her strength and tenacity as she knocked out unofficial rookie Mason.
"Everyone's politically correct in their interviews, but deep down, they're competitive animals," said Women's Tour Manager Jessi Miley-Dyer. "You would never play a board game with any of these girls. Never."
BILLABONG RIO PRO WOMEN'S ROUND 2 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Pauline Ado (FRA) 10.00 def. Paige Hareb (NZL) 8.17
Heat 2: Laura Enever (AUS) 12.96 def. Sage Erickson (USA) 12.23
Heat 3: Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 16.70 def. Melanie Bartels (HAW)
Heat 4: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 12.60 def. Jacqueline Silva (BRA) 5.30
Heat 5: Courtney Conlogue (USA) 14.17 def. Justine Dupont (FRA) 10.47
Heat 6: Coco Ho (HAW) 16.57 def. Sarah Mason (NZL) 10.00
BILLABONG RIO PRO WOMEN'S ROUND 3 MATCH-UPS:
Heat 1: Tyler Wright (AUS), Courtney Conlogue (USA), Alessa Quizon (HAW)
Heat 2: Stephanie Gilmore (AUS), Lakey Peterson (USA), Coco Ho (HAW)
Heat 3: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS), Malia Manuel (HAW), Rebecca Woods (AUS)
Heat 4: Carissa Moore (HAW), Laura Enever (AUS), Pauline Ado (FRA)