Stephanie Gilmore’s record-breaking eighth world title was destiny – with even a cherry tomato telling her she would produce a giant-killing run in the WSL Finals.
The Australian surfing star made history on Thursday at California’s Lower Trestles break, beating world No.1 and five-time world champion Carissa Moore in the title decider.
Gilmore was in tears as she hugged Moore immediately after winning her eighth world title, one more than compatriot Layne Beachley.
The 34-year-old did it the hard way on finals day, winning four rounds back-to-back as the fifth seed in the top-five format.
She knocked out Brisa Hennessy, Tatiana Weston-Webb and Johanne Defay, before beating defending champion Moore 2-0 in their dream best-of-three championship decider.
Given the against-the-odds nature of the title win, Gilmore described it as the best of her eight world crowns.
“This is the greatest event of my life, the greatest achievement of my career,” Gilmore said.
“It was just a wild day. It was almost ridiculous to think it was possible
“I visualised this so much and I was like ‘let’s do this’.
“Let’s just prove this whole system wrong – you can come from the bottom, come from fifth and win a world title. That’s friggin’ cool.”
Gilmore also revealed the universe had given her a series of signs leading up to the WSL Finals that reassured her that she could win.
“It was funny, I just kept seeing a lot of eights around. Even in vegetables and in my salad I was seeing eights,” Gilmore said.
“I had a cherry tomato that was two cherry tomatoes stuck together by one core, and it was an eight.
“And then when I sliced it in half it was an eight. It was pretty cool.
“Today is the eighth in America. I have two eights on my jersey. There were a lot of signs pointing towards that.”
Gilmore paid tribute to Australian surfing legend and her good friend Beachley, who has now been officially pipped as the greatest female surfer of all time.
“She’s an amazing woman,” Gilmore said.
“It was such an honour to share the seven record with her, but I knew eventually I could make the eight and make it happen.
“It’s really cool to have the support of Laine. She paved the way for us.
“She showed us that you can win six in a row. Kelly (Slater) didn’t even do that.
“She’s a really strong character, and I appreciate what she’s done for women’s surfing and female athletes around the world.
“It was a true honour today to be able to surpass that seven and make the eight. I hope I did her proud.”
Making Gilmore’s triumph even more special was the way she was able to claw her way back from a COVID-plagued start to the season.
At risk of missing the mid-season cut, Gilmore pulled off a series of big results to stay in the title race and eventually sneak into fifth spot.
Gilmore sung the praises of Moore, calling her “the real world champ” this season.
“She really is the greatest of all time, in my opinion,” Gilmore said.
“I disliked this format … the world championship should be crowned in all the different waves.
“Now I love it.”
Gilmore’s day nearly ended in her opening match – she made a shaky start against Costa Rican Hennessy.
Judges then called a crucial block against Hennessy, giving Gilmore priority, and she took out the match with her last wave score, inside the final minute.
She then came from behind as well to beat Weston-Webb of Brazil, but was building momentum in the tricky conditions and was too good for Defay of France, to set up the decider against Hawaii’s Moore.
In the men’s final, Brazilian Filipe Toledo won his first world title, beating compatriot Italo Ferreira 2-0 in the decider.
Ferreira beat Australians Ethan Ewing and Jack Robinson on Thursday on the way to the decider.