Sally Fitzgibbons left it until the final minutes of her third-round heat at Bells Beach to snag a win that has kept the Australian star’s hopes of avoiding the WSL’s mid-season cut alive.
Sitting 17th after three events, the veteran surfer faces the prospect of an early off-season if she’s unable to enter the top 10 after the next event at Margaret River.
Olympian Fitzgibbons stormed through Tuesday’s Rip Curl Pro elimination heat in fine form, but was facing an early exit against Malia Manuel on Wednesday.
Twice the Hawaiian edged ahead but a 6.10 on Fitzgibbons’ final wave was enough to move clear and then cling to a 12.93 to 12.60 lead in the last five minutes, securing a quarter-final against American Courtney Conlogue.
“You feel the pressure, but I’ve taken steps to (arrive here) … relaxed, surfing free and bringing my best,” Fitzgibbons, a two-time Bells champion said.
“Which is hard with pressure mounting on your head. When those results aren’t coming easy you start to question things, but it’s cool to come out the other side.”
She isn’t the only one alive and chasing a points boost, compatriots Steph Gilmore (14th), Tyler Wright (seventh) and Bronte Macaulay (18th) all winning their heats on Wednesday.
Macaulay scored 15.66 to blow by in-form Brazilian Tatiana Weston-Webb, before Wright linked 8.17 and 9.07 rides to blitz Hawaii’s Gabriela Bryan and Gilmore fought from behind to beat Australian rookie India Robinson 14.9 to 13.23.
Seven-time world champion Gilmore will face five-time champion Carissa Moore in a blockbuster quarter-final while Macaulay will surf against Wright.
Robinson (eighth) and Wright are the only two Australian women currently in the top 10, but a host of upsets on the Victorian Surf Coast are leaving the door open for movement before competition heads west.
After a long absence from the tour due to illness, two-time world champion Wright has no plans to slide out of the equation.
“It’s the only event I want to win. This event is special,” she said after her impressive heat win.
“That was really fun and really special. It’s been four years since I surfed out here and a long time since I’ve felt like I’ve surfed like myself.
“I’m starting to get glimpses of that, so it’s quite emotional for me.
“I look down at my body and it feels like my body; it’s powerful, strong and connected.”
Ten Australian men remain in the round-of-32 that could resume on Thursday.