The women's action got going in clean, solid surf at Bells with a perfect canvas on which to perform.
Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) took advantage almost as soon as the horn sounded. The reigning World Champ lost the Tour leader's symbolic yellow jersey after the Roxy Pro Gold Coast, and appeared to be fired up with a first blow that featured her signature, sweeping carves and hits at the lip. She earned an 8.67, a score that put her heat opponents, Bianca Buitendag (ZAF) and Tatiana Weston-Webb (HAW), on the defense.
She quickly followed it up with yet another impressive performance, reminding everyone -- and especially the judges -- why she has rung the prestigious bell here three times already. Her second score was even bigger and better, earning a near perfect 9.70 to force Buitendag and Weston-Webb into a combination situation.
In contrast to Gilmore's domination just minutes before, the next and final heat of Round 3 was hardly a done deal. Instead, it featured lead changes, long waits for waves and stellar performances. It was Coco Ho (HAW) who found her rhythm early on, staying active and putting together a modest scoreline. At the halfway point, though, Courtney Conlogue (USA) found a bomb for 8.00 points and moved out in front.
Ho grabbed it back with a 7.40, building her scoreline further. And never one to be left out of the action, World No. 3 Tyler Wright (AUS) found a set wave for a 9.07 that bumped her into second place.
But it was Conlogue who finished the heat on a high note, taking on a solid wave all the way to the beach, where she narrowly missed hitting a rock on the closeout. Bells has a particular meaning for the California native. Last year she was among the Tour frontrunners at the start of the season, until an injury at Bells (the third women's CT event in 2014) halted her progress and kept her out of competition for three events.
Despite her commitment, though, the score she needed was not to be, coming up short by just .20. Ho, with her slow and steady approach, won the heat and advanced directly to the Quarterfinals.
Catch the remaining women in Round 4 when the Rip Curl Women's Pro action resumes on worldsurfleague.com and the new WSL app.