California’s Lakey Peterson (USA) is officially back to winning form as she claimed a career-fifth event title on the Championship Tour, her first win since 2019. A legitimate world title threat in 2018 and 2019, the powerful surfer from Santa Barbara suffered a lower-back injury early in 2021 and has since been fighting to find her winning formula again.

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“This is my favorite event on the calendar, it’s just special,” Peterson said. “I’m dedicating this to my sister-in-law who we lost this time of year last year so there’s a lot of emotions, it’s cool. We all work so hard and we’re so competitive but it’s really special when your peers want to celebrate you and they show up for you, it’s a pretty cool community and I don’t know many other sports like that.”

Beatriz Ryder/WSL

Peterson’s road to the Final in South Africa was anything but a walk in the park as she faced some of the toughest draws this week. She successfully dispatched up-and-coming rookie Caitlin Simmers (USA), a former runner-up in the world Caroline Marks (USA), and two-time World Champion Tyler Wright(AUS) before besting Picklum in the last heat.

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In the Final, a tough start with multiple falls and minor scores didn’t stop the American from believing and the powerful regular foot came back in the fight midway through with a 6.27 (out of a possible 10) before catching the best wave of the heat with an excellent 8.50 that secured her victory.

“I just kept working, just kept knocking on the door and trusting the process, it’s hard sometimes,” Peterson explained. “I love J-Bay and it just loved me right back today, to be honest. It was a tricky day and it was easy to be on the wrong side of priority when the good waves came, so a bit of luck in there but I’m pretty proud of myself, this was my third final out here so third time’s a charm.”

Molly Picklum. Alan van Gysen?WSL

Molly Picklum (AUS) came firing right out of the gates in 2023 with renewed confidence after a short-lived first CT season last year. The Australian won her first event and wore the Yellow jersey through Bells before a string of four consecutive Quarterfinal exits moved her back slightly in the rankings. She finally broke the trend today in South Africa when she defeated the eight-time World Champion Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) before advancing past Carissa Moore (HAW) into the Final.

“It’s always interesting on Finals Day when you take down big names like Steph and Carissa that feels like a final,” Picklum reacted. “When you put everything into a heat it’s hard to carry the momentum through the day. To crack the Quarters was amazing, and it’s bittersweet to get second but to do it against one of my best friends on tour, I’m super happy for her. I’m happy we both had a couple of opportunities to get some waves and put on a performance for the fans in South Africa because they’re super passionate here and we love giving them something to watch.”

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In the Final, the Australian seemed in control of her destiny with a great start and a good backup. But when her opponent Peterson managed to turn the heat with an excellent number, Picklum wasn’t able to find enough wall on the fast rights at high tide and had to settle for second place.

Today’s result guaranteed Picklum a spot in the WSL Final 5 as the tour heads to the last event of the regular season in Tahiti next month. From a mid-season cut in 2022 to a chance to fight for the World Title in 2023, Picklum’s rise has been incredible to witness and she will likely be contending for the ultimate crown in years to come.

“It’s so good, to be officially in, is so great,” Picklum said. “Last year I was fighting to get back here so to find my feet and back myself, I’m still growing and learning so I’m getting better and I’m honored to be here. I feel like I’ve put blood, sweat, and tears into everything I do. I’m a super passionate and hard-working person so to get a shot at this is going to be epic.”