Surfing world champ Steph Gilmore a shock early loser in Hawaii

Reigning world champion Steph Gilmore knows she has to “knuckle down” after her title defence started with a shock early exit at the Billabong Pro at Hawaii’s fame Banzai Pipeline.

After days of waiting to get in the water, Gilmore, who won an eighth world title last year in emotional scenes in California, didn’t make it past the elimination heats on Friday morning.

The 35-year-old came last in her opening heat, won by defending Pipeline champ and Hawaiian Moana Jones Wong and then failed to improve in the next round, finishing last again in a disappointing start to her new season.

“I feel like I‘ve gone from hero to zero, but surfing has a great way of keeping you humble for sure,” Gilmore said.

“It‘s a bummer way to start the year but that’s sport, that’s the way it is and there’s really no better motivation than to have a shocker and want to come back better.”

The early exit puts a premium on performance at the next four events for Gilmore to avoid missing the mid-season cut that last year culled fellow Aussie Sally Fitzgibbons.

Gilmore missed the women’s Pipeline event last year after being forced into quarantine due to Covid before going on to secure the world title. .

But she said she was going to have to “knuckle down” after the loss in Hawaii.

“I‘m already two heats better than what I started last year, so it’s not too bad,” Gilmore said.

“I‘m not going to be able to scrape by like I did (last year), I’m really going to have to knuckle down at Sunset and then go to Portugal.

“Then I feel really comfortable at Bells and Margaret River, but we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. But I’ll do my best.”

Fitzgibbons lost an all-Aussie round of 16 showdown with Tyler Wright, with three other Australians to battle it out in the afternoon in Hawaii.

Wright, a two-time world champion, said she had done a lot of mental work in the off-season to get the best out of herself in 2023.

“Really changing my psychology around putting seasons together and connect with why I am here, why I am showing up,” she said.

“It’s been a fun off-season and it’s nice to get it started.”

Molly Picklum joined Wright as the only Aussie women left in the event after taking out countrywoman Isabel Nichols in their round of 16 clash.

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