Who Is Going To Win The Women's World Title? – Sean Doherty On...
Day of Reckoning
By Sean Doherty
Remember when halfway through the 2010 Federal election campaign and with her poll numbers wearing concrete shoes, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced to the electorate on breakfast TV that for the rest of the campaign they were going to see “the real Julia”? The Julia free of spin-doctors and confected soundbites and focus group malarkey, a real human being, the “Rool Joolia”?
Remember the immediate outcry that went something along the lines of, “Well, if you’re the Real Julia, then who the off has been running the country for the past year?”
Similarly, there are times when I watch a women’s surfing contest and try and work who it is I’m really seeing. It all just seems a little too loved-in and Utopian. This dreamy, saccharine carnival where everyone is everyone’s biggest fan, where everyone is “just having fun out there”, where heats have all the abrasiveness of wet lettuce. It just seems so deliberately perfect in every way that I’m waiting for one of them to unhinge, unclip the Uzi, and start ventilating their opposition in the surfer’s area.
And before you race to the Outragemobile to label this piece whatever you might ending with -ist, the situation I’ve described above is actually, if anything, worse on the guys’ tour.
At the start of the season – and the start of this new showbizzy era of pro surfing – the surfers were all called into meetings and told they would be obliged as part of their new deal to put themselves out there like never before. Pitching an NFL films model, the event coverage wanted unprecedented access, they wanted blood, sweat, tears. They wanted real emotion, real rivalry, real character… the Real Julia. Well, after a full season of watching both the guys’ and girls’ tours I’m still not convinced I’m actually getting the real thing. The most visceral moment of the tour so far – Kelly trying to jump through his surfboard in Portugal – was pulled and never shown. Getting to the pointy end of the season, some brutal candour would be tremendous right now. Any chance of Bobby Martinez doing the post-heat interviews in Hawaii?
Well, this week in Maui we might just see the Real Julia… or at least the Real Steph, Sally or Tyler.
The final event of the women’s tour is about to start at Honolua Bay, three girls are in with a shot at the World Title, and with the big prize sitting just there, the emotion will surely spray like so much shaken champagne.
WHILE I'M SURE SHE'D BE CONTENT WITH ANOTHER WORLD TITLE, SHE'D LOVE TO DO IT WITH SOMETHING VIRTUOSIC THAT WILL SUMMON THE GHOSTS OF THE GREAT HONOLUA STYLISTS.
It’s a big World Title this one. For the first time, the women this season have been treated more or less as equal on tour. I know, positively enlightened for 2014, huh? But the girls’ tour has progressed light years in the past 12 months. They’ve had events at Cloudbreak and Trestles, and their World Title will be decided in the dreamscape of Honolua. They’ve been on equal billing with the guys for waves and (just about) equal prizemoney. In fact, the top four girls on tour have all earned more prizemoney this year than Kelly Slater. The last time that happened Kelly was 11. The stage has belonged to the girls this year, and we’ve now got a deliciously poised World Title finish.
Steph, Sally, Tyler… three girls for whom this World Title would mean something completely different.
Two heats ahead in the ratings, Steph is a clear favourite. She’s just finished touring her biopic, and I’m sure that as she sat there and watched it for the hundredth time, watched the teenage version of herself cakewalking to World Titles, it must have seemed like a lifetime ago. Now at 26 and the oldest girl on tour, with five World Titles, borderline icon status and an effortless way about her, Steph at times seems like she’s outgrown this tour. What would a sixth Title give her? Well, after watching her surf this year she’s clearly now measuring success by the evolution of her own surfing more than heat wins. During all her best heats this year she’s almost seemed to be surfing against herself. Her final at Trestles was the high water mark of performance on tour this year, and while I’m sure she’d be content with another World Title, she’d love to do it with something virtuosic that will summon the ghosts of the great Honolua stylists.
I think we all know what a World Title win would mean to Sally Fitzgibbons.
And I think we all know what it might mean if she didn’t.
Sal is working the time honoured role of “Australian golden girl”, a role trailblazed by Pam Burridge and taken to levels of prodigious household recognition by Layne Beachley. Sal is sooo close to being there, so close to being “Our Sal”, but is just missing the one thing kinda crucial for the role. That damn trophy. After finishing runner-up too many times already, I think, regardless of how the result goes on Maui, there’s a collective will to see Sal surf free and unburdened at Honolua from whatever pressures might be gnawing away at her right now. Find some flow. Slide across the Rainbow Bridge.
Sal is the closest in the ratings to Steph – a surf-off between them for the World Title is not out of the realms of possibility – and it would be a loaded heat, as theirs is the great unspoken rivalry of the girls’ tour.
The longshot – but the girl with by far the most interesting personal journey this year – is Tyler. After winning Huntington earlier this year I spoke with her, and that goofy awkwardness that characterized her early years in the public eye – the thought bubble interviews, the Elaine Benes dancing – had been swept away. Being interviewed she was eloquent, considered, opinionated and principled. Tyler suddenly had the kind of presence the women’s tour was crying out for. She was suddenly not only comfortable in the spotlight, but was carrying herself like a World Champion. She told Surfing World soon after, “If you try to be something you’re not you’ll always be under pressure. You’ll begin to question yourself, ‘Am I doing this right? Am I doing the right thing?’ It creates doubt. But if you do things in your own way, you can stuff up and it’s not the end of the world because you stuffed up on your own terms.”
As for how this might all play out, well, both the numbers and common sense say Steph.
Honolua Bay and Steph Gilmore, now that’s an intoxicating mix. This feeling is shared by Coastalwatch and Surfing World’s own Mike Jennings, The Oracle of women’s surfing, who from 20,000-odd participants currently leads the women’s ASP Fantasy Surfing league. Silence please while The Oracle delivers his one-hand clapping prediction: “Well, I’ve learnt that a good result in Fantasy Surfing comes down to not going for who you have a hunch is going to win, but the person who is least likely to lose. That person is Steph.” Unless of course Honolua is big and barreling (which helps Tyler), or small and choppy (which helps Sal), or Steph draws Carissa in the quarters (which helps Tyler and Sal).
However it plays out, it’s about to get real.
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