With two events left on the schedule, there appears to be a growing feeling that Stephanie Gilmore is about to seal up her first world title. Many are already crunching the numbers on exactly what it will take for her to seal the deal ala Mick Fanning and put the points race out of the reach of her opponents.
But with such a stacked field opposing her at Sunset, chances are we’ll have to wait until the final event at Honolua Bay to see any champions crowned.
With the event relocating to Haleiwa for two years, (2004 & 2005), many chalk up Chelsea Hedges victory at the Roxy Pro in 2005 as having been won at Sunset Beach. But make no mistake – there are really only a handful of surfers to watch out for in this event, and none of them call themselves goofyfoots. Layne Beachley has won at Sunset beach 4 times previously and, as always, will be the surfer to watch if the surf gets bigger than 5 to 6 foot.
But who else has the wave knowledge to pull off a victory at the expansive lineup of Sunset Beach?
Here are Fantasy Surfer’s hot picks for Sunset Beach:
1 – Layne Beachley: Fantasy Surfer Value:$8,500,000 – The 7 time world champ is still in the hunt for her 8th crown, just as the tour hits her sweet spot. Beachley is so at home in large waves of consequence that you almost have to make her the favorite to win both events in Hawaii. She has more experience, more victories, and more knowledge of these spots on her side than any other surfer on tour. Look for her to win at least one of the final two events – if not both.
2– Sofia Mulanovich: Fantasy Surfer Value:$7,750,000 – For as small as Mulanovich is, you wouldn’t really expect her to charge as hard as she does. But the 2004 world champ has absolutely no problem with throwing herself into some of the heaviest waves out there. She’s still in contention for the world title, although without a solid placing at Sunset Beach, she could be out of the race very early. Look for her to make a solid push into at least the quarterfinals and keep the title race alive until Honolua Bay
3– Melanie Bartels: Fantasy Surfer Value:$4,500,000 – Bartels the defending event champion at Sunset Beach where she won the event as a wildcard in 2006. She no longer has the element of surprise on her side this year, but she’ll need to find something if she wants to remain on tour for 2008. If there is any spot where Bartels can rescue her year and win an event, Sunset Beach is the place. Expect her to make a strong push for a repeat victory, and don’t be surprised to see her standing on the podium when the dust settles.
4– Rochelle Ballard: Fantasy Surfer Value:$3,000,000 – It’s looking like 2007 will be this Kauai native’s last on tour. She’d love to go out with a victory, and one of the spots that would bes suit her skills is Sunset Beach. She finished 3rd at Sunset last year, and it’s no stretch to say that she could easily cap her career with a well-deserved victory here in 2007.
5– Silvana Lima: Fantasy Surfer Value:$8,250,000 – We really have no idea how Silvana will do here to be honest with you. But one thing she has managed to accomplish is to wow everyone just about everywhere she surfs. In 2005, as a wildcard, she scored a perfect 10 at Honolua Bay on her first wave in a WCT event. Last year, she missed the Hawaiian leg of the tour with an injury. This year, she’s looking for her first event victory after making it to at least the semifinals of 5 out of 6 event s this year. Now that’s consistency. We expect nothing less from her at Sunset Beach. With a world title on the line, this could be the run that the fiery Brazilian needs to jump past Stephanie Gilmore in the ratings.
6– Stephanie Gilmore: Fantasy Surfer Value:$8,500,000 – What? You thought we weren’t going to pick the prodigy? Not a chance. This girl is amazing. It would shock absolutely nobody to see her win the Roxy Pro @ Sunset beach and walk away with the world title in her rookie year. In 2006, as a wildcard, she finished runner-up at Sunset Beach taking out Layne Beachley, Rochelle Ballard, Jessi Miley-Dyer and Melanie Redman-Carr along the way. If Beachley goes down early, here’s your favorite. Otherwise, look for a Gilmore v. Beachley final to be in the works. Winner takes all.