Sally Fitzgibbons. Image / WSL

The Winners and Losers of The Cascais Women’s Pro

Nikki takes the trophy, Carissa gets back to the podium, but it’s Sally Fitz who is the real big winner. Find out why!

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No way, another major event on the women’s tour down? Portugal is just as important as Bells, Snapper, Trestles, or any other event when it comes to deciding who will be the 2017 World Champion, yet bundled in the middle of a men’s QS10,000, on a beachbreak somewhere in Europe, surfing on while Australia goes to bed, it’s easy to forget that it’s happening, but it is happening! It happened! Big things happened! So let’s take a quick look at who came out of the Cascais Women’s pro winning and losing before the ladies head to their penultimate event in France in two days time.

Winner: Sally Fitzgibbons

Yes, Nikki Van Dijk won the event and it was marvellous, don’t worry we’ll get to her. And yes, Sally will perhaps be a little disappointed by not capitalising on her fallen rivals and going further than a semi-final finish, but as Portugal comes to a close, and the girls pack their bags and head to France, Sally Fitzgibbons will be the happiest as truly the biggest winner to come out of this mess. Why? Because Sally, with her third place, has yet again logged a solid result into her consistent 2017 scoreline. And consistency wins World Titles. Before Portugal started, Sally, despite holding the Jeep Leader’s jersey, was mathematically way down in fourth place when you took away the two lowest scores of everyone this year, as is done to determine the World Champion. In fact, she was a couple thousand points back from Courtney who had command at the top. But with this result Sally has closed the gap significantly, just a measly 300 points between here and Courtney on the adjusted ratings; and with only two events left before the year’s out, she has also guaranteed that her lowest counted score at year’s end will be a quarter-final finish – a truly extraordinary year. With a smidge, just a smidge, of a better record than Courtney Conlogue over the final two events, and with Tyler Wright under an injury cloud, Sally has put herself in the box seat to win the World Title. Twenty-seventeen could finally be Sally’s year!

Loser: Tyler Wright

Damn. The defending World Champ injured her ACL in a freesurf before competition in Portugal. She pushed through, and tested her knee in rounds 1 and 2, and lost both, claiming her only last placed finish for the year and hurting her Title chances. More perilous, however, is how capable or incapable she will be of fighting for her World Title defence in the final two events of 2017. There are a lot of reports and speculation floating around at the moment that this means her Title campaign has been snuffed out, but we’ve seen no word of the like from the Tyler camp. In fact, it’s mathematically possible for  her to take France off, rest up, and claim the Title at Honolua Bay (which begins in November 25). I don’t believe we’ve seen the last of Tyler in 2017, no way.

Winner: Nikki Van Dijk

She did it! Hooray for Nikki Van Dijk! Hooray for Phillip Island! Hooray for fairy Penguins! Nikki Van Dijk claimed her maiden win at a major CT event, and interestingly she becomes the third underdog/non World Title race event winner in three successive comps, following Silvana Lima claiming Trestles and Sage Erickson winning the US Open at Huntington. The former World Junior Champ took the win in “wild and wooly” conditions, which if you’ve ever been to her hometown breaks of Phillip Island in Victoria, and seen its most consistent spot of Woolamai, you’d know would be familiar to her. This win is just reward for a marked improvement in consistency for Nikki Van Dijk; she has never finished last in a CT event in 2017. There are just two other surfers on the Women’s tour who can boast that stat and those two are the ones leading the World Title race. The result also catapults her in to the top five for the first time in her career (I think).

Loser: Courtney Conlogue

Inexplicably, Courtney Conlogue’s biggest threats for the 2017 Title, Tyler Wright and Stephanie Gilmore, had BOTH fallen in Round 2. If you adjusted the ratings at the beginning of Portugal, Sally Fitz was a way’s back in fourth place, and not someone she had to worry about all that much. So, the path had been cleared. Steph and Tyler down, Courtney the back to back Champion here in Portugal, so let’s get walking! But no, Courtney also fell early, in Round 4 thanks to the 2017 version of Sage Erickson who is swiftly making a new habit of kicking arses and taking names. Conlogue not only failed to capitalise on the situation laid out for her, but she also had to watch Sally, unflappable this season, walk along the path that should have been hers. Portugal is a huge opportunity missed for Courtney to start closing the door. And not only that, she’s invited Sally to come on over and fight her for it. And you better believe Sally don’t mind a fight. God, this Title race is a good one.

Winner: Carissa Moore

Before Portugal, the three time World Champ was having an absolute shocker in 2017, having never gotten past the quarter-finals in a single event. That’s fine for some surfers on the CT, healthy even, but it is not for the caliber of surfer and athlete and champion that Carissa Moore is. She rectified that in Portugal, getting all the way to the final and finishing just a 2.84 away from the win. She won France last year, and finished second at Honolua Bay, and while Carissa won’t be going for the World Title herself, she’ll have a major part to play in deciding who is crowned the champ in 2017 yet. God help the contenders who have to draw her.

Biggest congrats on your maiden victory @nikkivandijk 💕 Love you girl!

A post shared by Carissa Moore (@rissmoore10) on

Loser: Steph Gilmore

Steph hadn’t surfed the Portugal CT since she won it back in 2014 (due to injury). In 2017 it showed in the result, finishing 13th after losing to injury replacement wildcard Bianca Buitendag. The six time World Champ slides a to cold and lonely sixth on the ratings. When you adjust them to count out her bottom scores, she’s actually in fourth, and just 3,500 points from the spot at the top, so it’s not over yet for the great one. That’s a tough task though, but she has the talent to pull such a feat off. The bigger question would be wether Steph still possesses the grit the likes of Sally, Courtney, and Tyler have in their bones – all of whom have five or six World Titles less than Queen Steph – to pull out wins when they shouldn’t and wrench world titles out of the years available to them. I mean, you’ve got to wonder how much motivation Steph has at this point, what difference would this World Title make to her already charmed lifestyle?

Winner: Keely Andrew

Following up her second place finish at Trestles with a solid quarter-finals appearance gives her a solid rounded 2017 so far – half of the year spent in the QFs or better, half below – and it puts her in a solid position to double qualify for next year, which should be her goal, and has given her a neat platform to launch into the top tier of pro surfing next year.

Loser: The Trophy Presentation

We need to face the fact that surfing is not Formula 1, that surfing events sometimes finish on a cold Wednesday afternoon on an empty beach, and that that is fine. Trying to emulate that big stage presentation with trophies aloft and alcohol spraying over the winner, soundtracked to the sounds of an inconsistent, smattering of claps from maybe 100 people, is embarrassing to watch. Who is it for? The people on the beach? The audience watching the broadcast? Right now it’s accommodating for both and nailing neither. Surfing operates on the fringes of towns and cities, often in isolated places all over the world, and during bizarre hours for a sporting event. It is not a ticketed stadium spectacle. Apart from Bells, with the iconic ringing of the trophy and the indigenous ceremony around the finalists, and apart from the throwing of the winner into the ocean at the old Mundaka comp, I can’t recall any event having an interesting or even necessary trophy presentation. We need to find a way to embrace that fact, embrace our uniqueness, and celebrate our winners in our own way, not the way other sports do. Never has this been more apparent then the aerial shots a drone provided live over the broadcast for Nikki Van Dijk’s triumphant win. It’s time.

A screenshot from the WSL broadcast during the glamorous presentation of Nikki Van Dijk’s Cascais Women’s Pro win.
Mike Jennings