American surfer Caroline Marks powered her way to her first world title on Saturday, while Brazil's Filipe Toledo went back-to-back to claim his second championship with a hard-fought win over surprise finalist Ethan Ewing from Australia.
Ewing fractured two vertebrae in a wipeout in Tahiti in August and was a long shot to be fit for the one-day Rip Curl World Surf League Finals held for the top five surfers at Lower Trestles, Southern California's epicentre of high-performance surfing.
Judging criteria published ahead of the finals emphasised how big, innovative aerial manoeuvres would be highly rewarded.
But Ewing’s high-speed, on-edge carves in the overhead waves proved undeniable as he racked up huge scores to overcome Brazil’s Joao Chianca and then hometown hero Griffin Colapinto to win a spot in the best-of-three final against Toledo.
Toledo, however, showed once again his mastery of his adopted home break, combining his own searing turns with high-risk aerials to edge Ewing 2-0 and retain his title.
“It’s so hard to put into words what it took for me to be here right now,” Toledo said, after embracing his family and being carried up the beach.
“So much sacrifice, a lot of sacrifice to be honest. Seven years ago when I had my first kid, I wasn’t home to be there with my wife... I knew in the long run it would pay off and this is a dream come true.”
Marks, already a five-year world tour veteran at 21, overcame Hawaii's five-time world champion and Olympic gold medallist Carissa Moore in the women's final.
The Floridian was the only goofy-footer (standing with her right foot forward) and used her powerful backhand to great effect, throwing huge fans of spray to get the best of 17-year-old phenom Caitlin Simmers and then Australia's two-time world champion Tyler Wright to reach the final.
She carried that momentum into the first best-of-three match-up against Moore, notching up two excellent scoring waves and securing a comfortable win.
Marks, who like Toledo has moved to nearby San Clemente, again found the best waves in the second match-up and held on to win with a two-wave total of 14.6 out of a possible 20.
“This whole week has been just magical. Everyone from Florida and from San Clemente has been supporting me, I just can’t believe it,” Marks said after her win. “There’s going to be a massive party after this and everyone is invited!”
The win breaks the stranglehold that Moore, Wright and Australia’s Steph Gilmore have had on the world title since 2007, and confirms Marks’ place alongside Moore in the Unites States surfing team for the Paris Olympics in Tahiti next year. REUTERS