Sitting one and two on the ASP Women’s World Tour rankings, Carissa Moore and Sally Fitzgibbons may be the best rivalry in surfing right about now. Rivalry is what makes sport great. It’s what draws fans in and gives them a compelling reason to cheer. Whether it’s a rivalry between towns, teams or individuals, it’s where passion is poured out in abundance.
Think Manchester vs. Liverpool, Lakers vs. Celtics, or Ali vs. Frasier.
Old School Surfing Rivalries
Like any sport worth watching, professional surfing’s had its fair share of epic rivalries over the years. There are the storied battles between Miki Dora and Johnny Fain at Malibu, and Mark Richards and Cheyne Horan got into it in the ’70s.
The design of the modern shortboard was still in flux, boundaries were being pushed both in the shaping room and in the water, and it was MR and Cheyne that served as the touchstone for the emerging world tour.
Then came the ’80s, when Tom Curren and Mark Occhillupo took things to an even bigger level. With them it was America vs. Australia, an all-or-nothing, riot-inducing battle for global surf supremacy.
Then, when it couldn’t get any better, the 21st century ushered in the rivalry to end all rivalries: Kelly Slater vs. Andy Irons. In the early 2000s that rivalry was surfing. It consumed the attention of both the media and fan alike.
“I was the dark prince and he was the white knight. We hated each other for awhile there. It was win at all costs.” –Andy Irons
As the late Irons described it, “I was the dark prince and he was the white knight. We hated each other for awhile there. It was win at all costs.” Irons was on a tear, winning three consecutive world titles, while Slater, the timeless champion, played the unusual role of spoiler. With the tragic passing of Irons in November 2010 the rivalry was eternally extinguished.
But Gidget never had an arch nemesis. Lisa Andersen and Layne Beachley were so dominant that nobody could touch them. Simply put, never before has there been a highly-publicized rivalry between two female surfers -- not until now.
“I’ve been on tour a couple of years now,” tells Sally, “and to win a couple contests this year is a big breakthrough. I’m feeling a lot more relaxed and a lot more confident. The winning and the points and all that, that’s kind of been a bonus.”
“I don’t think I could have fathomed that it would have been me and her battling it out for a world title,” says Carissa. “I’ve always enjoyed surfing with her, she’s a lot of fun to be around, and over the years we’ve just enjoyed pushing each other and growing together. She’s one of those people who never gives up and fights to the very end, and that’s something I really respect about her.”
Sally vs. Carissa
The two have known each other and have been competing against one another for most of their young adult life.
“It was my first trip over to Hawaii,” says Sally of their first meeting when they were 13 years old. “I was over on the North Shore and it was just flat. Everybody kept telling me this place gets huge, and we rocked up and it was just flat. So we rang Carissa and she was over in Town. She said there were some small waves over there, and because we were too young, we didn’t have a car and had to catch the bus over there.”
Watch Sally and Carissa battle it out at the Billabong Pro in Rio:
So far in the 2011 ASP Women’s World Tour season, Carissa has made a mind-blowing five finals in a row. She’s met Sally in three of those finals, and Sally owns the series, winning two out of three of those meetings.
“We’re on opposite sides of the draw, so we won’t meet unless we make it all the way to the top, but yeah, it’s pretty quiet out in the water,” notes Sally. “We’ve had a few little battles for priority or paddling, and you can see it -- we both want it just as bad.”
All told, what Carissa and Sally have going may be the best thing for women’s surfing. The excitement level is there, the performance level’s been through the roof this year, and with a solid rivalry in place, people are watching.
“I think that rivalries are really good for the sport,” says Carissa. “Between me and Sally, I don’t think there’s any negative energy, but I think it makes the sport super exciting. I’m stoked that I have somebody who pushes me like that.
“I think that goes for all the other girls on tour, too. Everybody’s surfing really well and you have to bring your A game if you want to make it through a heat. I’m looking forward to seeing how we all battle it out for the next few years, it’s going to be really interesting.”
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