FOUR years after she won her first Surfest Women's Pro in rain and gloom, Sally Fitzgibbons was basking in sunshine and the glory of beating six-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore for a second title in front of a packed crowd at Merewether on Sunday.
Top seed Fitzgibbons was busy from the start in the final, catching seven waves to Gilmore’s three and posting a total of 14.73 (7.83 and 6.9). It left Gilmore, who stayed further out to sea in search of bigger waves, needing a 8.56 score late after earlier best efforts of 6.17 and 5.60 for a total of 11.77.
A late paddle battle for waves kept Gilmore in check and Fitzgibbons came away with the win to start her 2016 World Surf League season in style. It capped a memorable return to Surfest for the three-time world title runner-up, who won the 2012 final against Malia Manuel and lost the decider against Dimity Stoyle in her last appearance, in 2013.
“Last time I had the win here it was super special, but it was pouring rain and there were crew up in the beach with ponchos on,” Fitzgibbons said on Sunday.
“I think today just having that energy, the crowd turn out, and the waves there too. It was something just having that swell and getting being pushed around the line-up, it was just a really good way to start the season.”
In the men’s final, top seed Matt Wilkinson dominated the final, posting scores of 8.83 and a nine out of 10 (17.83 total) to beat Italian Leonardo Fioravanti, who managed 7.83 and 5.50 for 13.33.
Wilkinson, 27, was pumped to win the Mark Richards trophy at a carnival he had been coming to since he was 11.
“It's a great start for me and gives me a lot of confidence going into Snapper,” Wilkinson said.
“That’s pretty much what I came here for. To get my feet in the water and see how my heat strategies were feeling. It turned out pretty good, so I’m glad I came here, for sure.”