Walking out of the competitor's area and down the beach, Lakey Peterson kept her eyes glued on the sand as Stephanie Gilmore tore into a reform right in front of her. She clearly wanted nothing to do with what Gilmore was doing in the water.
A few minutes later, Gilmore graced her way through a tricky, high-tide heat.
"We're trying to make statements to each other, or at least I am, because it's important in a rivalry to do that," said Gilmore after her post-heat interview.
"To win and make that statement when your main rival's paddling out, it factors in, for sure. This is new territory for Lakey. She hasn't been in a title race like this, and I think she's probably trying to make sure she's just keeping to herself and doing her thing," added Gilmore. "I'm pretty comfortable in these situations. I feel like with women's surfing, we're all so nice, we could have a little more bite…so yeah, I'm trying to keep it fun and interesting."
Peterson wouldn't be so lucky in the following heat. Suffering a disappointing opening round loss to wildcard Pauline Ado, she found herself relegated to Round 2. Able to regain her form in a one-sided affair against trials winner Kirra Pinkerton, she ultimately lived to surf another day.
"I'm trying not to focus on what anyone else is doing," said Peterson after her afternoon heat. "I'm aware of what Steph's doing and what Tati's doing, but at the same time you just have to keep your eyes on yourself, put your best foot forward and the chips are going to fall where they're going to fall."
"This year we've been handing the Jeep Leader Jersey back and forth, and it's really cool," she continued. "I really look up to her and admire her as a person, as a surfer and as an athlete. I'm really enjoying it and it's just pushed me to try and surf better and do my best. It's a lot of fun."
Lakey Peterson got tripped up in Round 1, but answered back under pressure, advancing out of Round 2 at the end of the day. Photo: WSL / Morris
All eyes may have been on the developing World Title race and rivalry between Gilmore and Peterson, but the opening day of the Women's CT served up other plot lines as well. Defending champ Sage Ericksonwas unable to find her rhythm and bowed out after a Round 2 loss to Nikki Van Dijk.
"It's a little bit hard to swallow," said a disappointed Erickson bowing out of the contest. "When you lose it hurts and when you win it feels great, so you have to balance out all those lessons. I had a moment where it was like, ‘Woah, last year was a whole different feeling. Life's so interesting. I believe that it's different people's moments at different times and life kind of serves you what you need. Sorry about the emotion, but it's real, the Tour's real, and it's all exciting in its own way."
Day one also served as a preview of what may be to come in. In her first taste of CT-level competition, 16-year-old Pinkerton may not have come away with the results she was after but the experience will prove to be invaluable in the long run as she got to surf against both Gilmore and Peterson. She had a hard time finding good scoring opportunities and was visibly bummed when it was over, but for the young woman that's currently fronting the North American Junior rankings, it was definitely an important step in her evolution and maturation.
At the end of Round 1, another 16-year-old, Caroline Marks took a commanding win over Sally Fitzgibbonsand Bronte Macaulay. Having won the U.S. Open Pro Junior twice in the past and finished up runner-up last year, she clearly wasn't lacking in experience or confidence.
"I've surfed against Kirra so much in the Juniors, and it's crazy how last year we were in every Final together, and now we're here," said Caroline. "She's such an amazing surfer and I'm so glad that she was able to get into the contest. For me winning here twice and finishing runner-up last year, it gives me so much confidence."
Relocating from Florida to California, Caroline Marks felt right at home in front of the Huntington Beach crowd. Photo: WSL / Rowland
As far as her performance was concerned, Marks embraced the experience whole heartedly.
"Coming from Florida, I wouldn't want to have grown up anywhere else," she said. "I feel really comfortable in waves like this and, for some reason, the crowd doesn't make me nervous here. And now that I live here, I really like surfing Huntington. It's the best of both worlds. I'm definitely not jaded or bummed, I'm just really excited."
With two full rounds in the books and the World Title race continuing to heat up, it was a productive, and compelling start to the Women's CT. It's still early days and there's a lot of surfing left, but keep a sharp eye on Gilmore and Peterson, but don't be too surprised if the next generation comes on strong over the next couple of days.
The next call will be Saturday morning at 7:00am PDT.