A blazing performance from Australian Sally Fitzgibbons was all there was to separate Paige Hareb from adding 'world champion' to her list of accolades.
The Taranaki surfer was unable to overcome a near perfect heat from Fitzgibbons in the final of the International Surfing Association World Games in Japan on Saturday, but capped for a strong week in the water with a spot on the podium.
Fitzgibbons posted a 9.47 and a 9.17 on her way to claiming the title as she simply had her way with the waves to claim her first ISA title since 2008.
"I thought I had a chance," Hareb told the Herald. "Especially since I beat her in the heat before, so I knew she was going to be fired up. But it's a little bit hard to come back when she has two nines."
Hareb impressed all week in the event, and saw her form continue into the final day of action. After posting an 8.60 inside the final 30 seconds of her semifinal to avoid surfing a repechage heat, the 28-year-old let loose on the Tahara break.
Her heat total of 14.66 in the final was enough to take out the second step on the podium, with South African Bianca Buitendag and American Summer Macedo finishing in third and fourth respectively.
"It was a bit disappointing not to get the gold and go all that way, but I'll definitely take a second any day of the week."
Hareb and Fitzgibbons have been familiar foes over their surfing careers, both having their first year on the World Surf League Championship Tour in 2009. After the final, the two took a moment to reflect on the journey their careers have taken them on so far.
"We just chatted about how we've been doing it for so long now. I said I'm glad that we can still make podium finishes. We're good friends, we've known each other for years. If I couldn't win, I'm happy that Sally won."
Hareb put the New Zealand squad on her shoulders in the event, with her appearance in the final a big reason the nation improved their overall rank from 14th in 2017 to ninth this year.
The improved ranking was a vital goal for the New Zealand team, as they will avoid the more dominant countries in the early stages of the 2019 event where Olympic qualification will be on the line.
Fellow Kiwi women Raiha Ensor and Elin Tawharu were relegated to the repechage heats early, making their potential trip to the final a longer one. Ensor, the reigning national champion was eliminated in round five of the repechage stages, and Tawharu was ousted one round later.
In the men's side of the draw, Billy Stairmand, Levi Stewart and Zen Wallis couldn't get a handle on the tricky conditions. Stewart and Wallis were eliminated in repechage round two, and Stairmand in repechage round five.
Final team standings:
1. Japan - 3368 points
2. Australia - 3093
3. USA - 3000
4. South Africa - 2703
5. Peru - 2605
9. New Zealand - 2275