Rottnest looked more righteous today as the swell spiked and the lines became more defined. Less of a semi-closeout and more of a blank canvas that invited two to three major moves.

In quarter-final one each of Cibilic’s turns were just ten to twenty percent better than Julian’s. More vertical, more critical, more precise, and more committed. Wilson kind of got stuck between two worlds. His turns were solid but not amazing and his aerial attempts, while refreshing to see, lacked the necessary wow factor to turn the heat in a single move.

As Rabbit pointed out with his quick arithmetic, Julian would have caught Morgan in the latter stages of the heat if the 2021 overachiever took his foot off the gas. However, before the scores had dropped to nudge Julian back in front, Morgan was blasting through a three-turn combo that earned him a score in the excellent range.

Cibilic is consistently performing what might be termed ‘radical classical’ surfing. It’s not risk-averse but he’s not throwing his board beyond the lip into an offshore wind( like a 50/50 coin toss) and hoping to reconnect. One of the pluses for Morgan is that his version of critical, on edge surfing, does not sacrifice speed, power, and flow. As a result he is one of the best surfers on tour to watch right now.

The king of effortless style, Joel Parkinson, once told Tracks that Miguel Pupo was one of his favourite surfers to watch. Pupo can punt for his paycheques but also has the option to stay connected to the face and win heats with sexy snaps and rail jams. His 7.50 early-heat slammer was an example of that. Liam O’Brien was hard done by when it came to the judges’  very anal interpretation of the completion rule with one of his first waves. However, he bounced back with a ‘two turn combo’ that Kelly ( dialed in for a cameo) and the gang loved, to put himself in front with a few minutes to go. A pair of six-plus scores was enough to make O’Brien the best-performing wildcard of the year so far.  

Perhaps the most entertaining aspect of the heat was listening to Kelly’s anecdotes about his clashes with Adriano de Souza. Like when Adriano got yelled at by Kelly’s Mum after he paddled over her golden boy and the time when Kelly was bawled out by Jadson Andre for beating Adriano. Adriano probably deserves a right of reply but if Kelly is not in the comp he still manages to steal the limelight. You certainly can’t deny he is an invaluable addition to the commentary team. 

In a rematch of the Narrabeen final between Conner Coffin and Gabriel 
Medina, Gabby looked like he was surfing on speed. However, despite the inviting air wind, his first attempt was, as Ronnie suggested, more of a 'chop hop than an alley-oop'. Although the surfing was very lateral the two following moves were performed at maximum velocity. When the judges dropped a seven it felt like they had the speedometer out and were rewarding his lap time as opposed to his handling skills. Sensing he needed more than his SoCal backside drifters, Coffin whipped through a vicious tail-whip to reverse. It was a little bit of much-needed thrash metal from a surfer who performs easy listening rock in and out of the water. A pair of mid-range sixes gave him the lead with ten to go but that’s never a comfortable position against a stalking lion-like Medina who only needed a 6.6.
Gabs just went down a gear, stayed on the face, and gouged his way to a 6.8 and a slender lead. 

In the difficult quest to find parity between big turns and airs it’s arguable the judges are favouring the flyers. In his quarter against Yago Dora Italo was telegraphing his airs. No matter how big his beyond the lip jumps are they are starting to look more predictable than surprising on the stretched-out Strickland Bay walls. The bottom turns also have a hop, skip and jump quality that arguably equates to a lack of flow. Yago Dora is arguably a more complete surfer. He has a more stylish bottom turn and frontside carve. This was on display when he dropped a 7.07 midway through the heat. Landing a lofty slob grab attempt on his next wave might have given him the lead. Then he got a hall pass when Italo failed to stick an air that put him amongst the low-hanging, grey clouds. Unlike Medina, Italo seemed to lack the ability to gear down a lock in a solid score without attempting a knee-jarring punt. The world champion fell again and left the door open for Yago who was only chasing a 5.87. Yago also lacked the ability to produce a solid score without launching. Being able to surf down can be as important as being able to surf up. It was tense. You almost wanted one surfer to take off and slam the lip a couple of times on a good wave and get the job done. Aerial incompletions get nauseating after a while. In the end, it was a little bit of a fizzer. One that exposed the danger of pursuing an aerial attack exclusively.

Cibilic will meet O’Brien in semi one, meaning Australia is guaranteed its first finalist of the Oz leg. If Cibilic continues to rage he will be hard to stop. Can he maintain the momentum?  O’Brien may need to go up a notch but is guaranteed to post a couple of solid scores. The two are friends and share Jay 'Bottle' Thompson as a coach. Their semi could get crazy but will probably be cagey. 

Medina vs Italo might be a wild match-up. Like watching two wound up rams run full bolt at one another and launch into flying headbutts. However, Medina has the advantage at the moment because he can post big scores on the face or in the air, and switch strategies based on the demands of the scenario.

Carissa Moore will go into finals day as a firm favourite. Photo: WSL/Miers

In the women's it's really a case of who can stop Carissa Moore who appears to have the superior read on the fickle lineup at Strickland Bay. Johanne Defay has been assigned the task in the semis and will need to be at her best to topple Carissa.  Meanwhile, Tyler Wright has wrestled her way back to form to claim a semis position against Sally Fitzgibbons. Sally is sitting at six and desperately needs the win if she wants to nudge into the all-important top five at some point. 

Could be a couple of days of Quokka stroking for the remaining surfers if the WSL elect to hold out for cleaner conditions. Then again, a Sunday with solid surf is hard to say not to for any contest organiser.