Fitzgibbons' future hanging on Margaret River outcome

Sally Fitzgibbons could face a third straight year of heartbreak at the Margaret River Pro with the World Surf League tour veteran forced into the elimination round on the opening day of competition.

With the women's field cut to just 10 surfers following the round five event - and only four spots still up for grabs - Fitzgibbons effectively needs to make the semi-finals to move up from 14th and guarantee a start in the Championship Tour's remaining competitions.

In 2022 Fitzgibbons missed the mark but received a wildcard for the remaining three events, while last year she had to compete in the Challenger Series to re-qualify for the elite level.

The men's field will be reduced to 22 in the mid-season cut, with 10 surfers - including Australians Ethan Ewing and Jack Robinson - already safe.

The men's event spent day one at Margaret River on hold.

When surfing resumes, 33-year-old Fitzgibbons will face a do-or-die heat against fellow Australian Bronte Macaulay and current world No.2 Johanne Defay, of France.

Fitzgibbons took on ninth-ranked compatriot Tyler Wright and Hawaii's current world No.5 Bettylou Sakura Johnson in the opening round and was unlucky with just 0.76 points splitting the three scores.

That was a recurring theme across all six heats, with the surfers battling strong winds in the small swell.

World No.1 Caitlin Simmers won her heat, in which 0.61 of a point separated the three surfers, including last-placed Macaulay.

Australia's top-ranked Molly Picklum, who has made the mid-season cut in third spot, opened the first round with a win, while other locals to advance directly were Sophie McCulloch, Tyler Wright and Isabella Nichols, who won the event in 2022.

Molly Picklum surfs at Margaret River Pro.
World No.3 Molly Picklum shows her style during day one at the Margaret River Pro.

Olympics-bound Wright, a two-time world champion, is currently within the top 10 in ninth spot.

India Robinson (ranked 17th ) finished third in her heat and will face Costa Rica's Brisa Hennessy (sixth) and Brazilian Luana Silva (10th) to remain alive in the competition.

Picklum started the year with a bang with a second spot and then victory at Sunset Beach but her form dropped in Portugal and Bells Beach, where she made an early exit.

The 21-year-old said she felt re-energised heading into Margaret River.

"I had a really strong start and then readjusting the sails a bit there in Portugal and Bells was a bit of a whirlwind," Picklum said.

"I feel like there's waves to surf and rip ... and there's also slabs and fun waves to chase. 

"I'm all stoked on surfing again, I've got the energy back.

"It was a little bit slow out there for sure but conditions are clean and you just have to make do."

Nicholls said while she loved Margaret River, it was a place of mixed emotions - her 2022 victory meant she survived the cut, but she missed out at the West Australian break last year.

“This place is very emotionally fuelled for me," said Nicholls, who is ranked 12th.

"I’ve had some of the most incredible experiences here as making the cut with a win was the best day of my life, and last year not making the cut was heart-breaking. 

"I’m really trying to tap in to the feelings I felt in 2022 and use it as inspiration."

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