It’s been a grim couple of years for Aussies trying to claw their way onto the world tour, but coming into Hawaii there’s more than a few poised to make the leap.
There are two major contests left on the WQS calendar, and with ten thousand points up for grabs at each, and a prestigious Triple Crown title on the line, the Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa and the Vans World Cup at Sunset will be the most hotly contested events of the season. For the desperate crew of Aussies sitting around the qualification bubble, they’ll not only have to get past the rest of the hungry pack dreaming of deliverance to the big leagues, but also an imposing field of local specialists and a whole host of CT guys looking to either keep their spots on tour or claim themselves a Triple Crown. It’s a big ask whichever way you look at it, but right now we’re well placed to see a few of our boys give it a damn good nudge. Let’s take a look at the crew carrying the hopes of Australia’s surfing pride on their shoulders:
Sitting at 36th, 35th and 27th respectively, Stu Kennedy, Matt Banting and Dion Atkinson are all guys who’ve tasted the sweet nectar of the Dream Tour before. They’ve also experienced the bitter aftertaste of being unceremoniously bumped back to the lower leagues, and know that too many years spent struggling on the QS will undoubtedly see them fade into obscurity. Add in the harsh reality that none of them have a lucrative sponsorship deal and that fact becomes all the more pressing. Luckily, all three are savvy competitors with solid experience in Hawaii, so there’s the hope that at least one of them could get on a roll through Haleiwa and Sunset and earn themselves a second shot at the tour. Banting is my pick, and with the talent he possesses and the injuries he’s had to fight through the last couple of years, he definitely deserves it.
Knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door
Three Aussies sit just shy of the coveted top ten cut-off at the moment, and they’re an interesting bunch of hopefuls. Soli Bailey and Reef Heazlewood are both young and untested at the CT level, but they’ve got the backing of good sponsors and have some decent results behind them. Reef won the Australasian Junior Series in 2017 and tore through the trials of the US Open this year to make it all the way to the round before the quarters, while Soli is also a former junior series winner and took out the Volcom Pipe Pro in 2017, proving he’s got the goods in Hawaii. Sitting just above them is the ever-talented Jack Freestone, who spent 2016 and 2017 on tour but ultimately failed to translate his freesurfing theatrics into results at the top level. All or none of them could climb those extra few rungs of the ladder in Hawaii, but here’s hoping it’s the former.
It hasn’t been the same impeccable run that he experienced during his first qualification quest in 2016, but after Ethan Ewing failed to deliver on the hype as a CT rookie last year, he’s nonetheless got back on the grind in 2018 and once again fought himself into world tour contention. Currently sitting at 9th on the rankings and with at least one or two names ahead of him almost certain to double-qualify, a decent campaign through Haleiwa and Sunset should see the North Straddie golden child get back on tour. He’s done well in Hawaii before and his sturdy, beautifully put-together style suits the big walling rights of Haleiwa and Sunset perfectly, so all signs point to him getting a shot at redemption. And look out when it comes. This kid was made for the world tour and in 2019 he’s going to be a lot better prepared than he was the first time around—it’s hard to imagine him falling back to the QS again.
Mikey Wright and Ryan Callinan have already booked themselves spots on the 2019 tour, which gives us plenty to cheer about in itself. Whether you agree with the amount of wildcards Mikey was gifted in 2018 or not, there’s no denying he’s proved his worth at the CT level and belongs among the top dogs. He’s unorthodox, he charges, and he seems to possess that special gift of rising to the big occasions, as evidenced by the defeats he dished out to John John and Medina this year. On the other side of things, after a shocking debut season in 2016, Ryan Callinan has emerged in the back half of 2018 as a veritable giantkiller ready to do some serious damage at the top level. With a final in France as a wildcard behind him and an act as well-rounded as any of his peers, big things await R-Cal in 2019. Bring it on.