Stephanie Gilmore eyes eighth world title at World Surf League showdown in California

Surfing’s world titles will again be determined in a one-day showdown in California with three Australians vying for a crown.

Only the top five ranked men and women will compete, with the lowest-ranked seeds needing to win each heat to progress to a best-of-three final.

A win for Stephanie Gilmore would see her surpass a record she jointly holds with Layne Beachley and secure her eighth world title, but she heads into the event as the lowest-ranked seed and will potentially have to surf five heats to win.

“It is a very busy day at the office,” Gilmore conceded.

“But if you break it down, it’s not too bad. It’s three hours of surfing, twelve waves in total, but I’m really not taking it lightly.

“I know every single heat will be super tough and starting from the very bottom is a really tough place to be in, but it can be done.”

West Australian Jack Robinson’s 2022 season largely delivered on the hype surrounding him when he emerged from Margaret River as a 13-year-old surfing prodigy.

Successive wins in Margaret River and Indonesia coupled with repeated finals appearances and a win over ratings leader Filipe Toledo see him enter the event ranked second, reducing the number of heats to just one he will have surf to make the final.

“I wanted to do this in my first year,” Robinson said of his impressive tally of wins.

“Sometimes if you want something too much in the first year it doesn’t happen and maybe I wasn’t thinking about it as much this year, so it freed me up a bit.”

Stradbroke Island surfer Ethan Ewing rounds out the Australian field in California for the world champion deciding event — the format for which was largely slammed by surfing commentators when introduced last year.

Pundits argued a surfer could potentially win a world title without winning an event and conversely, a surfer with the most wins could potentially be pipped at the post in the final.

Men’s rating leader Filipe Toledo drew ire this year for a perceived degree of underperformance in the consequential waves of Pipeline in Hawaii and Teahupoo in Tahiti, adding fuel to the sentiment against the finals format.

Surf writer Shannon Hughes thinks the format adds a grand-final type atmosphere to competitive surfing, which has typically been run on a first-past-the-post basis.

“The one-day finals format certainly delivers the pressure-cooker situations we haven’t often been able to see for surfers to win a world title,” Ms Hughes said.

“Seeing surfers react to that intense pressure is fascinating.”

Gilmore admits she still has her work cut out to match the performance levels of others on the women’s tour in larger waves, particularly US surfer Courtney Conlogue who took out the last Tahiti event.

Ms Hughes said the inclusion of waves such as Tahiti, a heavy-duty, left breaking barrel, on the women’s tour could create a wedge between the ranks.

“It’s a big challenge for the current veterans on the women’s tour to find results in these waves if they haven’t put in the time to learn,” she said.

“Courtney has and that paid off, Steph hasn’t yet. Subsequent crops of contenders are likely to arrive with even better barrel knowledge, which could easily see a total generational shift in the women’s tour.”

Australians poised to pounce
The 2022 season has however proved a bright spot for Australia’s male representatives on the tour after several years of languishing, while Australian female surfers such as Tyler Wright, Sally Fitzgibbons and Stephanie Gilmore have dominated.

Their climb comes amid the first signs that the dominance of the tour’s bevy of Brazilian surfers may be waning.

“We are all really competitive, but we feed off each other,” Ewing said of the emerging Australian contingent.

“Having the support of each other helps a lot and I think these next few years for us Australians could be really, really good.”

Organisers now have eight days to choose the day with the best conditions to run the world title showdown.