Surfing 'utopia' within Fitzgibbons' reach
Ever tried to catch a wave after two weeks in hotel quarantine?
Sally Fitzgibbons has.
"It was super draining, every time you felt like you've never surfed before," she told AAP of her repeated efforts to get back to speed during the most extraordinary of World Surf League seasons.
"You see waves coming, paddle in, but miss them for the first three days.
"You're waiting for your proprioception to come back, your balance and awareness on board.
"There was a lot of 'oh my gosh I don't think I'm going to make it' moments and then even then it's if you don't make this next COVID-19 test it'll be the end of the road.
"It's felt like at any moment someone's going to just turn the lights out.
"It'll be nice to rest that system."
The Australian world title hope will finally get that chance once the Rip Curl WSL Finals are run and won as early as this weekend at California's Lower Trestles.
Only seven events have been possible in a campaign that began in Hawaii in December.
A fatal shark attack in Honolua Bay forced the women's Maui Pro to be shifted to the Banzai Pipeline for the first time, but not before the event was paused when WSL CEO Erik Logan contracted COVID-19.
The virus then played constant havoc on the tour schedule, while the sport's Olympics debut added further logistical hurdles for Fitzgibbons.
Despite it all, three thirds and a win at Rottnest Island's debut event means Fitzgibbons has registered her equal-best WSL season since finishing second in three straight campaigns between 2010-12.
Admitting that "some days she fell in a heap", Fitzgibbons said the secret to coping was "to get comfortable with the silence of it all".
Ranked third in the new top-five finals format, the 30-year-old believes "utopia is within reach" after a gutting quarter-final loss stopped her short of a sought-after Olympic medal.
She could meet compatriot Stephanie Gilmore (fourth seed) in her knockout heat, the winner of that to battle Tatiana Weston-Webb for the right to face top seed Carissa Moore in a best-of-three final.
"You can go 'urgh' and contemplate everything that's happened," Fitzgibbons said.
"But you don't need tol; just show up and let the experience show you in a way.
"If it's your day it'll happen.
"That moment, in the ultimate amount of pressure, you find that little bit of space in yourself to bring out your creative genius.
"On any given day it may not be there, but we just search for utopia and lean on those glimmers of hope that some components of it will be."