After three consecutive lay days, the Target Maui Pro kicked off with a bang. Tyler Wright (AUS) put her fellow World Title contenders -- Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) and Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) -- on red alert when she earned a near-perfect 18.90 heat total in the opening round at Honolua Bay.
â€œI try not to worry about the competition in my heats,â€ said Wright. â€œI love it when the girls are surfing really well and, if anything, it inspires me to go harder. When I get a wave I just want to do my best on it and that's all I'm really about when I'm out there.
"My brain is very clear when I'm surfing and I just think about creating lines. I'm not very artistic on land but when it comes to being in the water I love being creative with it. That's what I really enjoy and that's when I do my best surfing.â€
All three of the potential Title winners won their heats, which allowed them to advance into Round 3. Their success continues the three-way race -- one of the most intense in recent memory. Stephanie Gilmore (AUS), who mathematically has the greatest chance of clinching the 2014 World Title, had a slow heat but was able to manage an excellent-range score and advance. She has never lost a heat in Maui and continued her winning streak today, getting the better of her opponents from Hawaii, Coco Ho and wildcard Paige Alms.
"The ocean can be the hardest fourth competitor in the heat," Gilmore said. "I've had a lot of experience here and I know it can be very temperamental. I've just always been able to find that patience and wait for the right waves.â€
â€œThere's been an exciting build-up because it's the last event and the Title race is still going," Fitzgibbons said. "With all that circulating it's been great to put the rashie on and paddle out. I'm really looking forward to the next round and I'm looking to put a few more things into play and step up my performance.â€
Other standout surfers included California's Courtney Conlogue (USA), who earned the first nine-point ride of the event -- a 9.57 -- and South Africa's Bianca Buitendag, who scored a 9.80 in Heat 6 for the highest single-wave score of the day.
â€œI've been here for the last 10 days and every time the swell gets bigger than 3 feet there's so many people out here, so to share that with just two other girls is very enjoyable," Buitendag said. "This is just the start of a long race. We have two more rounds before the Quarterfinals start so it's important to get a good start."