Nikki Van Dijk from Phillip Island took her first tour victory with a win at the Cascais Women's Pro in Portugal.
Nikki Van Dijk from Phillip Island took her first tour victory with a win at the Cascais Women's Pro in Portugal. Damien Poullenot

Cat among the pigeons as championship race narrows

THE race for the World Surf League women's world title is now between two Australian challengers, defending champ Tyler Wright and Sally Fitzgibbons.

At the time of going to press, both had battled their way through to the semi-finals of the Roxy Pro at Hossegor, France.

It is now certain that the women's world title will be decided in the last event at Hawaii's Honolua Bay.

Will Wright withstand the pressure of surfing on an injured knee or will Fitzgibbons break through after three runner-up finishes to clinch a maiden world title? All will be revealed in December.

Fabulous to see a new winner on the women's WSL tour setting the cat among the pigeons.

It was a huge maiden win for Victorian Nikki Van Dijk to claim the Cascais Women's Pro, and to claim her first ever championship tour event win.

Despite the average beach breaks on offer (making Kelly Slater's wave pool look even more perfect), Van Dijk battled three-time WSL champion Carissa Moore (Haw) in a fingernail-biting 35-minute final at the back-up venue of Guincho, Portugal.

It was also the first final of the year for Moore, who was languishing in ninth on the ratings prior the the event.

"I have jelly legs, everything is jelly but I'm just so happy,” Van Dijk said.

"It was wild and woolly out there; I was scrambling around at the end because I knew Carissa (Moore) only needed a small score (2.84).

"Carissa can get eights and nines in her sleep, it was so close at the end but (then) I (thought) 'I've won'.

"This is literally what I've wanted to do my whole life.”

Van Dijk looked right at home in the Portugal beach breaks, which resembled her home breaks of Woolamai at Victoria's Phillip Island.

She defeated big names including Lakey Peterson (USA) in the quarter-finals and ratings leader Fitzgibbons (AUS) in the semi-finals to create history as the first Victorian woman to win a World Tour event.

Van Dijk has two previous championship tour semi-final finishes under her belt (Rio in 2017 and Trestles in 2016) and now moves to fifth on the overall rankings. Unfortunately Van Dijik was bundled out of the Roxy Pro, losing early in round two.

Fitzgibbons had a golden opportunity to widen her lead with a win at Portugal but it wasn't to be. She was in form in the quarter-finals, and looked like a winner on her JS (Gold Coast shaper Jason Stevenson) board.

Current No.1 on the Jeep Leaderboard Sally Fitzgibbons of Australia advances directly to the Quarterfinals of the 2017 Roxy Pro France after winning Heat 2 of Round Three at Hossegor, Landes, France.
Sally Fitzgibbons is now a serious contender for this year's WSL women's world title having reached the semi-finals in Portugal and France. Laurent Masurel

However, in the semi-final against Van Dijk, it came down to the judges' decision that could have gone either way. Fitzy needed a six-pointer and was given the score by three out of the five judges but the other two judges scored a 5.50.

When you take out the highest and lowest score, it dragged down the eventual score to a 5.83. I've raised this situation before and suggest if the majority of judges have allocated the score needed, the head judge should overrule, eliminating the highest and lowest deduction and go with the majority.

"I really thought I'd done enough coming in from that heat,” Fitzgibbons said after the event.

"It was one of those heats that I thought I surfed really well, so to hear those scores and not come in with the win is a challenge, but something I'll learn from.

"It felt good that my surfing stepped up from the quarter-finals, but it just wasn't to be. The challenge is keeping me inspired and fired up to get out there and keep making heats.

"Everyone is hungry and surfing so well, so it all comes down to these close heats.”