Evaluating the prospects of the new kids on the block.
In recent years it has proved increasingly difficult for rookies to claw their way into the WCT ranks. This year on the Men’s and Women’s CT we will only see four new faces. In the Men’s qualifiers Fred Morais, Jadson Andre, Alex Ribeiro, Migel Pupo, Ethan Ewing, Connor O’Leary and Deivid Silva have all tasted CT life before. That just leaves Jack Robinson, Morgan Cibillic and South African Mathew MacGillivray to fight it out for the 2020 rookie honours.
There was a similar pattern in the Women’s, with established CT surfers like Bronte Macaulay, Brisa Hennessy, Macy Callaghan, and Keely Andrew all qualifying via the QS, leaving Isabella Nichols as the sole rookie. Despite the low numbers each of the four rookies will definitely bring something fresh and unique to the CT roster. Here we take a quick look at where they came from and what damage they might do on the big stage in 2020.
“Making the CT has always been the goal. I’ve never thought about anything else really,” Robinson told Tracks in February 2019. “I mean being a good freesurfer and getting crazy clips is cool, but the CT is where I want to be.” Well, he is there now after claiming the win at the 2019 Vans World Cup of Surfing. It might be worth remembering that Robinson is just 22. His youth has sometimes been overlooked, understandably given that he had been in the surfing spotlight for almost a decade already. “Because I was always shooting in these crazy barrels that’s all most people would see of my surfing,” he told Tracks. “Yet we were always hitting the beachbreaks, so it’s been a big part of my surfing. I can win heats in any conditions.” He proved that in 2019 with strong results in Newcastle and Manly being backed by his, now predictable, barnstorming finish in Hawaii. While Pipe and Chopes may be bankers, it is at waves like Snapper, Bells and the French beachbreaks where he might struggle. Whatever the case one of the sport’s most dynamic stars is finally at the top table. It should be fascinating to watch.
Spending his time growing up between the surfing hubs of Angourie and Merewether it is no surprise that the natural footer has a smooth, powerful style, groomed on those two famous righthand points. Yet Cibilic has always flown relatively under-the-radar and he failed to land any significant results as a junior. Quiet, but self-assured, he nonetheless hit the QS full-time in 2018 finishing just outside the top 100. That’s why his qualification was easily the season’s biggest upset. The nuggety “Morgs” has a huge rail game that should suit the waves of the CT roster. He also has a positive attitude and genuine curiosity about the world that gives him a great perspective for one so young. He’ll take the losses better and enjoy the victories more as a result. As the last qualifier and the least known surfer in the field, Cibilic will hit the 2020 CT season with little to lose and plenty to gain. His competitors will do well not to underestimate the affable Aussie.
Growing up in Jeffreys Bay it is unsurprising that Mathew McGillivray formed such a smooth style with a powerful rail game. Both of those facets came to the fore when the natural footer charged to the CT with an incredible finish to the 2019 QS season in Hawaii. McGillivray, relatively unknown to the surfing world and untested in Oahu, made the Final of the Hawaiian Pro, then backed it up with a great performance at Sunset to clinch his spot for 2020 and finish in fourth spot on the QS. Those performances proved that the South African was ready for the big time. He has a hard competitive edge and striking self-belief, two traits absolutely essential if you don’t want to get chewed up and spat out as a rookie on the CT. Rather obviously Chopes and Pipe will be a test, but his surfing in front of home fans at J-Bay could be a highlight. Surf fans outside of South Africa may not have known a whole lot about him, but that is all about to change.
Nichols, the 2016 World Junior Champion, seemed always destined for the CT. However, the grind of the QS and her young age had seen the Sunshine Coast surfer lose confidence by the start of last year. Such was her inconsistency she applied for University to study engineering as a backup plan if her surfing dreams didn’t pan out. However, after finishing runner-up in the first two QS6,000 events of the year, Nichols was well placed in to qualify for the elite Championship Tour. She backed up those results with a few killer freesurfing edits which showcased the style, tuberiding skills, and progression that had her earmarked as a future star of the sport. The smooth natural footer, whose style has been compared to a mix of Carissa Moore and Stephanie Gilmore, eventually sealed her qualification and QS No.1 spot with her first career first win at the Port Stephens Toyota Pro in November. The less than smooth passage might actually prove to be beneficial as she arrives on the CT scene a little more mature and battle-hardened. With Moore absent in 2020, and veterans like Gilmore and Fitzgibbons at the twilight of their careers, there is serious real estate open for a surfer of her talent.