Surfing; Steph Gilmore, Sally Fitzgibbons miss world titles as sharks interrupt historic event in California

Sally Fitzgibbons’ push for a maiden world title came up short as all three competing Australians left the World Surf League finals without a trophy as sharks interrupted the historic event in California.

Brazilian Gabriel Medina won his third world title and Carissa Moore her fifth after both finals were delayed by sharks sighted close to the competition area at Lower Trestles.

Their wins came after the first-ever final five shootout, which after several days of no surfing started badly for Gilmore who was going for a record-breaking eighth world title.

The 33-year-old was a shock first-round loser in the revamped one-day format to decide the world champions.

That left Fitzgibbons, a three-time runner-up for the world title who narrowly missed an Olympic medal in Tokyo, to fly the flag and she won her first contest against Gilmore’s conqueror, French surfer Johanne Defay.

Fitzgibbons eliminated Defay but then lost in the next round to second-ranked Tatiana Weston-Webb, just one match short of a final showdown with Moore.

Having waited since last Friday to get into the surf, Gilmore was shattered to lose in the first round with a top score of just 3.5 for a combined best-two score of 6.7.

“It’s not my finest moment, that’s for sure,” the 33-year-old said.

“It was really tough to pick a great wave out there – there was like a rip running through the left and it created some ribs on the right and my whole plan was to stick to the rights and try to pick off a clean one.”

Seven-time WSL Champion Stephanie Gilmore surfing in Match 1 of the WSL Finals. (Photo by Tony Heff/World Surf League)Source: Supplied

Morgan Cibilic, the lone Australian in the men’s event, was beaten in the first round, losing to Californian Conner Coffin.

It ended a huge first season on tour for the 21-year-old from Newcastle.

“I’m stoked to have the opportunity to compete at Lowers and fight for the Title on my rookie year,” Cibilic sid.

“I’ll brush this one off and get ready for next year.”

Medina, the top-ranked male surfer, defeated countryman Felipe Toledo in an epic best-of-three heat final to clinch his third world title.

Surfing had to be paused for 15 minutes during the second heat of the final while a shark was cleared from the competition area and then again during the women’s final.

The surfers were hauled onto jet skies and competition was halted for 15 minutes due to the shark sighting.

“A shark has breached the side of the line-up and it’s about six to eight foot, so we’re going to search the line-up and make sure it’s gone,” WSL head of competition Jessie Miley-Dyer said.

Mick Fanning, the retired Australian three-time world champion who was famously attacked by a shark during competition at Jeffreys Bay in South Africa, watched on from the beach as a commentator.

“They’re probably looking for my phone number to light me up – it’s your fault,” he said of the finalists.

Moore went on to win the final over Weston-Webb to claim her fifth world title.