After a putting a on a tremendous performance in the one metre (three foot) Narrabeen beach-breaks Nicola Atherton (AUS) has taken out the girls division of the most prestigious junior professional surfing event on the planet - the Billabong ASP World Junior Championships.
It was red letter day for the future of women's surfing as the performance bar was raised dramatically as the two finalists went blow for blow, displaying that with their complete range of new school tricks and old school power carves they are in fact the real deal and will go on to conquer great heights.
For Atherton (pictured left), who finished runner up to Jessi Miley-Dyer (AUS) in the inaugural event last year it was a well deserved win as she notched up an 8.17 for throwing down some major turns. From there she never looked in doubt as her foe Anali Gomez of Peru struggled to find a wave that would allow her to let loose.
"I'm just feeling relief at the moment! I can't describe how good it feels," said a jubilant Atherton. "I don't think it's hit me yet. I'm just glad that it's over and I did it and have got that thing off my back! I'm a world champion... I set out to do this and have been thinking about it for six months. It is my last junior event and what a way to cap it off!"
By taking the win Atherton follows in the footsteps of her good friend and current world number four Jessi Miley-Dyer who claimed victory here last year. Both hail from the small Sydney beach of Bronte and Atherton claims that their upbringing and their rivalry has been the driving force behind their success.
"Bronte is a tiny beach yet we tend to breed a lot of good surfers," said Atherton. "It's a small environment which in turn develops some good rivalries. Plus we're surrounded by all the guys who always talk to us about our surfing, which amps us up. Jessi has always been an inspiration for me so to follow her in taking out this title feels amazing."
Of her fellow finalist Atherton was fully aware that she had to be on her toes right throughout the 30-minute affair. Having surfed against Gomez (pictured below) in other events she expected the going to be tough despite Gomez's relative anonymity.
"Anali is an amazing surfer," said Atherton. "Not many people know about her, yet she is capable of throwing down some 9.0 rides... I've seen her go mental on her backhand before... she's a fantastic surfer and a great friend."
As for her being on stage at the ASP World Champions Banquet in just over a month's time... "I didn't know I had to do that!" squealed Atherton. "I'm going to be a mumbling mess when I have to stand on stage with Layne Beachley and Kelly Slater!"
For Gomez, the runner-up finish is a career highlight and despite going so close but yet so far to getting a win she was overwhelmed with her result. "I'm so happy," said Gomez who speaks little English. "I would like to say congratulations to Nicola... she did so well. Thank you very much Australia... I love it here."
Finishing in equal third was event favourite Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) and Hawaiian up and comer Coco Ho. Both surfed exceptionally well throughout the early rounds and at the end of the day showed that if the waves had gone their way they were definitely title contenders. Gilmore in particular was emotional about the semifinal defeat but was philosophical that in the end it would only make her hungrier for success.
"I was just floating around out there," said Gilmore. "I was undecided about whether to sit on the left or the rights so I sat in the middle like an idiot. But at the end of the day this will just make me hungrier."
Ho meanwhile enjoyed her experience and with a few more years left in junior competition will no doubt gain confidence and in future go all the way. "I really enjoyed coming here," said Ho. "And hopefully next time I'll be a little stronger and will do a little better."
Women's Final results:
Heat 1: Anali Gomez (PER) 11.50 def Alize Arnaud (FRA) 8.24
Heat 2: Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 15.17 def Pauline Ado (FRA) 9.10
Heat 3: Nicola Atherton (AUS) 11.47 def Lee Ann Curren (FRA) 9.00
Heat 4: Coco Ho (HAW) 9.43 def Leila Hurst (HAW) 9.00
Semifinal 1: Anali Gomez (PER) 9.84 def Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 9.73
Semifinal 2: Nicola Atherton (AUS) 10.67 def Coco Ho (HAW) 9.67
Final: Nicola Atherton (AUS) 11.84 def Anali Gomez (PER) 9.50