- Associated Press - Monday, November 25, 2019

SAN DIEGO (AP) - The World Surf League’s 2019 women’s championship tour is heading for a high-stakes finish wrapped up in red, white and blue.

Three Americans - Carissa Moore, Lakey Peterson and Caroline Marks - will be surfing for their country’s two Olympic berths as well as the world championship at the Lululemon Maui Pro in Hawaii.

“I knew it could happen,” Moore said by phone ahead of the contest. “I expected it to happen because the girls from America are all really, really talented. It’s crazy. Someone will possibly finish third in the world and not qualify. We knew going into it that was going to be super-competitive.”

The window for the contest starts Monday and runs until Dec 6, with the surfing to take place on the best two or three days on Honolua Bay.

Moore, of Honolulu, leads the rankings with 58,600 points. Peterson, of Santa Barbara, California, is next with 55,125, while Marks, of Melbourne Beach, Florida, has 53,410. Moore has won $436,000, Peterson $416,200 and Marks $391,200.

No other women on the WSL’s Championship Tour can win the world title. And one of the three top U.S. women will not make the team for surfing’s Olympic debut in Tokyo next summer.

“I don’t want to overthink things too much,” said the 27-year-old Moore, who is the defending Maui Pro champion. “There’s definitely a lot on the line. Hopefully we get a really good swell, have a really exciting event and we get to surf our hearts out and really earn that spot.”

Peterson, 25, said she’s also trying not to overthink the magnitude of being within reach of an Olympic berth.

“For myself and Carissa and Caroline, it’s just an intense situation to be in with there only being two spots and three of us all so close,” she said. “It’s going to be a really exciting finish to the year.”

At 17, Marks is by far the youngest of three.

“I think it’s super wide open for all three girls,” she said. “It’s super exciting to have the chance to be in the Olympics and go for the world title. It’s rad that we have this last event.

“I definitely think there’s a bit of nerves and all that, but that’s what makes it super exciting,” Marks added. “Whoever makes it will be deserving because they’ll be the top two in the world. The American team is the hardest to make in the Olympics, so we’ll all be trying super hard.”

Moore, Peterson and Marks have dominated the tour this year, with each winning two contests. Moore has been just a bit more consistent, with seven podium finishes in nine contests. Peterson and Marks have six top-three finishes apiece.

Being added to the Olympics is a big deal for surfing.

“It’s huge,” Moore said. “I never thought when I started out that surfing would be in the Olympics. It wasn’t even on the radar. It’s a huge step for surfing to be accepted on that level, that stage. It’s very exciting for surfing and exciting for us to share the sport with the world.”

Said Peterson: “It’s never been on a platform like the Olympics, which can be a beast of its own. It’s cool to get to be recognized in that manner. It’s pretty unique to even have a chance at it. I think it makes it really exciting.”

Marks said she flew to Maui to begin practicing for the contest, headed to Oahu’s North Shore to catch some waves there and then went back to Maui.

“It’s super fun,” she said. “The waves were so fun, so worth it.”

The men’s championship tour will conclude with the Billabong Pipe Masters at Banzai Pipeline on Oahu in mid-December.

A second U.S. surfer will join Kolohe Andino of San Clemente on the Olympic team after the Californian clinched a spot based on his No. 5 world ranking.

John John Florence of the North Shore is expected to return from ACL surgery and will look to hold off surfing great Kelly Slater of Cocoa Beach, Florida, for the final spot. Despite being out for most of the season, Florence is still ranked No. 8 in the world, two spots ahead of Slater, an 11-time world champion who turns 48 in February.


Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/berniewilson

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