Anyone who has spent time in a yoga studio (or a SoulCycle class, or a screening of The Secret) knows that the power of belief is alluring. That is to say, if you believe something enough, and stay focused and work hard in the flow of that belief, the universe will conspire to serve you up exactly what you need. This applies not so much to the surprise arrival of, say, chocolate ice cream when you're hit with a craving, but more so to things like a chance encounter, a job interview, or some other salient opportunity presented by stars and energy.
Or, say, a shot at a World Title. Whether you've devoted a lifetime to down dogs or never so much as set foot on a mat, the door that has opened for Sally Fitzgibbons this week at the Cascais Women's Pro is as unusual as it is otherworldly. As the current World No. 1 on the Jeep Leaderboard, she arrived in Portugal a mere 300 points ahead of World No. 2 Courtney Conlogue. Another 100 points behind Conlogue is Tyler Wright, the reigning World Champion and World No. 3, followed by Stephanie Gilmore, six-time World Champ and World No. 4.
But by the end of Round Four Friday at Praia do Guincho, only Fitzgibbons was still standing in the event. That means the Aussie has a wide-open door to broaden the points gap between her and the women on her heels. And with the kind of surfing she's been doing -- utterly precise, focused and forceful -- the European sky is the limit for her success in Cascais.
The losses of her fellow Top 4 surfers have been swift and surprising, coming in rapid succession for the past two days. First, Wright injured her knee in a freesurf earlier in the week, which led to an ultrasound, MRI and lengthy discussions with the WSL medical team. With another title trophy so close, she decided to paddle out for Round One, but lost. In Round Two, the waves were bigger and the pain in her knee was, too. She lost there in a huge upset, paving the way for Conlogue and Gilmore to close in.
But the universe delivered another gift, of sorts. In another surprise defeat, Gilmore lost her Round Two heat as well. That still left Conlogue, who was pitted against Sage Erickson in Round Four Friday in the most tense battle of the day. In Conlogue's column, she was paddling out with two years running as the defending event champ and a nearly unrivaled power game that was up to Guincho's inconsistencies. Erickson, meanwhile, had confidence in spades after a summer in which she hit a personal career-best. Most of all, though, she was unshackled by pressure.
That was likely a key factor in Conlogue's eventual defeat. Where Erickson surfed into the lead with ease and course-corrected when needed, Conlogue fell more than once and never caught up. Afterward, the sudden opening in the rankings occurred to Sage during her post-heat interview.
"For the longest time I've always been the spoiler or the underdog," she said. "I love Courtney so much and I want her to win a Title one day but I'm actually in a position where I could win one. The more that I take down those Top 4 the better I feel."
Conlogue, meanwhile, was poised in defeat and reflective about the loss. "No one wants a result like that but I'm still in the game and I still have a shot at the Title," she said. "When you're in a World Title race you're always going to have scars. But it's how you recover from that and make sure it doesn't define you."
As for Fitzgibbons, who got to skip over Round Four and head straight to the Quarters, there's nothing better than intervention from above. Whether she sees it as divine, or just an incredible turn of earthly events, remains to be seen. But what she does with it could determine which surfer achieves her dreams this year, and which will be trying to breathe and believe, yet again, in 2018.
CASCAIS WOMEN'S PRO ROUND 4 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Lakey Peterson (USA) 13.17 def. Silvana Lima (BRA) 5.17
Heat 2: Keely Andrew (AUS) 9.80 def. Teresa Bonvalot (PRT) 5.94
Heat 3: Malia Manuel (HAW) 11.83 def. Bianca Buitendag (ZAF) 10.43
Heat 4: Sage Erickson (USA) 12.10 def. Courtney Conlogue (USA) 11.23
CASCAIS WOMEN'S PRO QUARTERFINAL MATCHUPS:
Heat 1: Nikki Van Dijk (AUS) vs. Lakey Peterson (USA)
Heat 2: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) vs. Keely Andrew (AUS)
Heat 3: Tatiana Weston-Webb (HAW) vs. Malia Manuel (HAW)
Heat 4: Carissa Moore (HAW) vs. Sage Erickson (USA)