Tweed’s Chelsea Hedges says Steph Gilmore is the woman to beat.
Tweed’s Chelsea Hedges says Steph Gilmore is the woman to beat.

Steph’s title defence at risk

Tweed’s Chelsea Hedges, the 2005 world champion, and Coco Ho, the daughter of a Hawaiian surfing legend, have produced a dramatic twist to shake up the race for the women’s world surfing title.

Eighteen-year-old Ho defeated Hedges in the final of the Rip Curl Pro Search event at Peniche, Portugal.

Earlier the pair had knocked off the title favourites, with Hedges beating championship leader and fellow Tweed Coaster Stephanie Gilmore in a quarter-final and Ho dispatching second-placed Silvana Lima of Brazil in the semis.

Gilmore, the two-time defending world champion, had made the final of the previous six tour events since last November.

Lima had beaten Gilmore in the last two rounds and would have taken the standings lead if she’d made the final in Portugal.

Now Gilmore leads from Lima by only 157 points after four events in the seven-round world tour.

Ho leapt from fifth to third place, 713 points behind Lima, and Hedges rose from eighth to sixth.

Hedges, 26 earlier this month, took last year off for the birth of her first child, daughter Mieka, and does not have a major sponsor.

She started Wednesday with the highest wave score of the day in the third round, a 9.7, and then had a smart heat to beat Gilmore in disappointing one-metre surf.

Hedges dominated her semi- final against South African Rosanne Hodge, but Ho handled the deteriorating conditions much better in the final to win 15.83 points to 9.37.

Hedges says her friend Gilmore remains the woman to beat.

“It always feels good to take out Steph Gilmore – she’s the best out there right now in my opinion,” Hedges said.

“Silvana is close behind her, but Steph’s surfing still has that little bit of edge. I think she’s still going to be the one to beat at the end of the year.

“To get a heat against her throughout the year, I’m pretty happy.”

Gilmore had no excuses, saying Hedges handled the conditions better.

The tour will head next month to Peru, where Gilmore has won twice.

“Wow – that just makes it all exciting, doesn’t it?,” Gilmore said.

“The conditions were hard and I was just off my game.

“Obviously I’m just looking forward to getting some decent waves, because it’s been pretty shocking everywhere we’ve been.

“These results are good for me because I learn a lot ... it’s not an easy win.”

Ho’s father is Michael Ho, who won Hawaii’s Triple Crown twice and is considered an all-time master of the legendary North Shore at Oahu.

She is the first tour rookie to win an event since Gilmore in 2007.

This is also the first time the Pro Search has featured a women’s event and Ho will put the impressive winner’s trophy – a mounted world globe – to good use.

“We’re actually re-modelling our house, so Dad was (saying) ‘c’mon, that would be the perfect centrepiece’– there it is,” she said.

In the United States, the legal age for alcohol is 21, so the only embarrassing moment for Ho was when she fumbled with the champagne cork at the trophy presentation.

“Dad can drink for two,” Ho joked when asked about the coming celebrations.

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