Surfing champs back in action
TWEED Heads' king and queen of surfing, two and three-time reigning world champions Mick Fanning and Steph Gilmore, have reunited in Peniche for the Rip Curl Pro Portugal.
While the men have been hard at it on the 10-stop ASP Dream Tour, the women reaped the benefits of their shorter eight-stop tour and enjoyed a lengthy mid-year break.
With three stops each remaining, “Happy” Gilmore holds a comfortable lead on the ASP World Tour women's ratings and has one hand on a fourth world title, while Fanning sits in third place, with a bit of work to do.
But then he is the man they call “White Lightning” and last week's victory in France proved he can strike at any time.
The win catapulted him from fifth to third and back into contention with 10,000 valuable points.
Fanning, 29, is just 1250 points behind trail-blazing South African Jordy Smith, but faces a mammoth task in reeling in nine-time world champion and current ASP No.1 Kelly Slater, who is 8500 points ahead.
Despite Fanning's recent momentum, he was contemplative when discussing his campaign.
“In reality, Kelly has a pretty solid lead at the moment and I'll need a few more Hail Mary's here in the back three events,” Fanning said.
“He (Slater) has been on an incredible roll over the past three events and it will take something special to catch him.
“That said, I typically enjoy the back part of the year. It seems when everyone is getting a bit burned out, I thrive a little more. I feel more burned out at the start of the season.”
When Rip Curl Pro Portugal begins, Fanning will face compatriot Daniel Ross and trials winner Marlon Lipke in round one of competition as he looks to notch his second series win.
Conversely, Gilmore has won three of five events on the women's tour, and in a competition where a win is worth just 1200 points, sits 492 points ahead of fellow Australian and the tour's most consistent surfer, Sally Fitzgibbons.
Gilmore, 22, is coming off a lengthy break and is excited about competing again.
“I've had a great time mixing it up in the big cities, remote Indonesia, California and some quality time at home to freshen up my headspace,” she said.
“I think I'm simply excited to compete in a World Tour event again. I was starting to miss this environment, and I'm looking forward to getting some solid swell over the next few days.”
Gilmore faces Bruna Schmitz and Cannelle Bulard in the opening round.
Other locals in action include Currumbin's Luke Munro, Coolangatta's Dean Morrison, Lennox Head's Owen Wright and Adam Melling and Tweed Heads' Chelsea Hedges.