Surfer Bethany Hamilton delivers standout performance at Women’s Fiji Pro

Wildcard and inspiring shark attack survivor Bethany Hamilton had her best WSL result to date in this event. Photo: WSL/Kelly Cestari.

Wildcard and inspiring shark-attack survivor Bethany Hamilton had her best WSL result to date in this event. Photo: WSL/Kelly Cestari

Perhaps the biggest story of the Women’s Fiji Pro this year was Bethany Hamilton, the 26-year-old Kauai surfer who lost her arm to a tiger shark attack in 2003. Her return to competitive surfing is among the most inspiring tales in the history of sport.

After years of competing on the World Surf League’s World Qualifying Series and two wins at Pipeline, Hamilton furthered her story when six months after she and her husband, Adam Dirks, had their first child in 2015, Hamilton towed into a massive wave at the Hawaiian big-wave venue known as Jaws — one of the top waves of the WSL’s XXL Billabong Ride of the Year.

RELATED: Bethany Hamilton surfs big Jaws with some of the world’s best

Hamilton, who hasn’t competed since the Swatch Women’s Pro last September, was granted a wildcard to the Fiji Women’s Pro this week.

In Round Two, Hamilton ousted the dominating Tyler Wright of Australia, who has won three of the first five events of the year. She then downed five-time world champ Aussie Stephanie Gilmore and France’s Johanne DeFay to go directly to the quarterfinal, where she edged out Nikki Van Dijk.

But it was in the semis that Defay regained her composure and gave Hamilton her exit.

“Competing here has been a dream come true. It’s been amazing. The women’s Tour is surfing at such a high level right now. Being among the girls just pushes you to surf better,” explained an ecstatic Hamilton in her webcast interview after the semi.

“Even when I’m not here with the Tour, I’m at home watching it, and it pushes me to surf harder in my freesurfs.”

Johanne Defay, of France, just won the Fiji Womens Pro, putting herself into the world title race. Photo: Kelly Cestari/WSL.

Johanne Defay, of France, just won the Fiji Women’s Pro, putting herself into the world-title race. Photo: Kelly Cestari/WSL

DeFay, 22, took top honors at the in classic conditions at Cloudbreak, Tavarua, one of the most celebrated waves in the world. DeFay surfed beautifully on her backhand to take the win over three-time world champ Carissa Moore of Hawaii.

Defay won her first elite event last July at the Women’s Vans U.S. Open in 1- to 2-foot surf, the exact opposite of Monday’s conditions at Cloudbreak. She’s had a consistent season in 2016, finishing in two semis and two quarters each, coming into this event.

Moore, the three-time world champ, has made the semis of every event this season. This was her first final.

“[Moore] is such an amazing surfer. She was scoring 9s in every heat. It just feels crazy. I want to thank all of my family. I think they’ve been up all night [halfway across the world in France] watching. I’m out of words,” laughed Defay on the WSL webcast, still in the water, after the victory.

“Winning another event was one of my goals this year, and to win in Fiji, I just love being here.”

The results put Californian Courtney Conlogue into the No. 1 spot, followed by Wright, Moore and Defay. The women of the World Championship Tour will next compete at the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach, California, July 25-31.

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