GERROA'S Sally Fitzgibbons vaulted herself back into world title contention on Tuesday by winning the 2021 Rottnest Search.
In the Strickland Bay final, the 30-year-old produced nine scoring waves against France's Johanne Defay, with the best two being an 8.17 and 7.07 - for a combined two-wave score of 15.24.
This was enough to edge her French rival, who could only manage 11.23 in the four-to-six foot waves.
The victory marks the Kiama High School alumna's 12th victory on the world tour and first since the 2019 Oi Rio Pro in Brazil.
"It feels so good to be back in the winner's circle," Fitzgibbons said.
"I set a goal to be in the final five at the end of the year and I've been outside of it for a few events, so it's amazing to be rewarded for the work.
"If you give yourself every opportunity, every now and then the planets align and you can come out with the win."
Fitzgibbons is a 12-year CT veteran, who has come in second in the world title race three consecutive times from 2010 to 2012.
"I grew up watching the Rip Curl Search events," Fitzgibbons said.
"So many of them were in lefts, so it's cool to have one back and it be in a left. I don't get too many opportunities to use my strength, which is my backhand, and we may never compete back here on Rottnest, so this one really feels like a milestone.
"It just feels so good, I'm so stoked."
Fitzgibbons, who is part of Australia's Olympic Games team, opened the strong day of surfing by knocking out fellow South Coast product Tyler Wright (Culburra Beach) 15.43 to 7.64.
"To wake up and there's so much energy in the swell, it was such a pleasure to be out there and try to crack the code," she said
"It's got a few similarities to a bunch of different waves at home.
"So I kept telling myself 'oh, there's a section out front of my house'.
"And I try to accelerate off the bottom and trust my instincts.
"On a few of them, there are some pretty crazy ends."
The result sees Fitzgibbons rise from sixth to second in the rankings, putting her in a good position to finish in the top five and qualify for the new-look WSL title decider at the end of the year as she chases a long-sought maiden world title.
Tyler Wright moves into fourth spot following her equal-third place finish.
The men's Rottnest Search was taken out by Brazil's two-time world champion Gabriel Media, who defeated Angourie's Morgan Cibilic 15.50 to 7.87 in the final.
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