Stephanie Gilmore launched her bid to regain the world surfing championship in perfect fashion by winning the season-opening event on the Gold Coast on Tuesday.
Australia’s five-time world champion ended a winning drought stretching 20 months as she defeated South Africa’s Bianca Buitendag to claim her fifth Roxy Pro title at Snapper Rocks.
Gilmore scored 15.80 out of 20 to defeat 20-year-old Buitendag, who was appearing in her first tour event final.
Not since claiming her fifth world title with victory in Biarritz, France in July 2012 has Gilmore celebrated a tour win.
Gilmore has now won the season-opening event on the Gold Coast five times – 2005, 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2014.
After a desperately disappointing 2013 championship, where she didn’t make a final and had to settle for a fifth-place ranking at year’s end, Tuesday’s win couldn’t have done any more to erase the doubts from the past 12 months.
Gilmore said beating defending world champion Carissa Moore in the semi-finals had been the catalyst to finding the self-belief to go on and claim the title.
“I was pretty emotional coming in,” Gilmore said.
“To get over Carissa in the semis was a big thing for me, to come into the final and come away with the win – I missed it last year.
“I couldn’t put things together last year and to come here today and do that, reassured me that I could do it.”
Gilmore will now head to the Margaret River Classic in West Australia with the world No.1 ranking and the belief she’s strong enough to push for a sixth world title.
“To start the year off with a win is very strong,” she said.
“It’s the best way to start and it sort of takes a bit of pressure off going into the next few events. That’s the way I look at it.
“I definitely lacked a bit of confidence last year but I guess it came back today.”
Parko pipped in a thriller
Meanwhile, Brazil’s Gabriel Medina stunned Australia’s best surfers to claim what he feels could be a breakthrough world surfing championship victory in the men’s Quiksilver Pro.
The 20-year-old, who broke his leg in the opening rounds at Snapper Rocks last year, knocked out world champion Mick Fanning and Taj Burrow before pipping Joel Parkinson by just 0.06 of a point in a dramatic final.
Medina trailed for most of the 35-minute final against 2012 world champion Parkinson, who looked unbeatable despite breaking a board early in the heat.
But just as he did against Fanning and Burrow, Medina left it late to secure the win, scoring an 8.50 and a 7.83 with his last two waves to post a two-wave total of 16.33.
Long touted as a championship prospect, Medina admitted he was thinking his amazing day could be the start of something special in 2014.
“This is the best day of my life for sure,” he said.
“I would never have imagined this one.
“That’s my goal – a world title. I’ve started good and I’ll try to keep my work going and focus all year.”
A devastated Parkinson, who surfed brilliantly all day, particularly on his way to a semi-final score of 18.70, had to console himself with back-to-back runner-up finishes at his home event.