The big headline last season on the ASP Women's World Championship Tour was Stephanie Gilmore's return to form. After enduring a disappointing campaign in 2011, a year in which she suffered a physical assault from a crazed fan, Gilmore came back better than ever. And while Sally Fitzgibbons and Carissa Moore, the 2011 champion, tried to give her a run for her money, it was clear from beginning to end that 2012 was Gilmore's year.
Things won't be nearly as easy for the 25-year-old Australian this time around. The talent level on the women's surfing series continues to rise, and the competitive fires are burning hot. Here are a few things worth watching out for when the women take to the water on March 2 for the first event of the 2013 campaign, the Roxy Pro Australia.
1. Can Anyone Stop Stephanie Gilmore?
With five titles in six years, she's well on her way to making history. It's up to the likes of Sally Fitzgibbons and Carissa Moore to make their presence felt.
2. Fitz Is Fighting Fit
Sally Fitzgibbons is probably the best pure athlete on tour. A runner, a racer, and fanatical about her training, there's no question she's prepared physically. But playing second fiddle to Gilmore and Moore has given her something even more powerful: motivation.
3. Carissa Refocused and Re-energized
In 2011, Carissa Moore proved she was as good as everybody thought, winning her first world title and interrupting Gilmore's iron-fisted hold on it. In 2012 she let down her guard and Gilmore and Fitzgibbons took advantage. Training hard and traveling extensively this offseason, as she explains in an interview on the Hurley site, have Moore refocused and re-energized, which could spell trouble for her rivals.
4. The Shortened Schedule
With only seven events, the women get shortchanged on their schedule. Four of those events take place in Australia and New Zealand, before the women travel on to Brazil, France and California. While the men compete in 10 events all the way through December, the women will have crowned their champion by mid-summer when the U.S. Open of Surfing comes to Huntington Beach.
5. A Californian in the Title Hunt?
Golden State surfers have a lot to cheer about when it comes to the women's tour. Californians Courtney Conlogue, Lakey Peterson and Sage Erickson are capable of winning at any locale, and while Peterson and Erickson are still finding their feet on tour, Conlogue could very well surprise everybody and end up in the world title hunt.
6. The Alana Blanchard Factor
Appearing in the most recent edition of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, Blanchard's no stranger to turning heads, but the question remains: is she a bikini model that surfs or a surfer that also happens to be a bikini model? Our guess is that she'd prefer the latter, but it's up to her to go out and prove it this year.
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