The Australian leg of the 2021 Championship Tour is over as quickly as it begun, with four events having been crammed into less than two months of action. Margaret River was the only CT regular to make an appearance and served up quality waves as usual, while Newcastle, Narrabeen and Rottnest Island made their debuts on tour. The latter was one of the more unique events in recent memory, taking place at the desolate Strickland Bay – let’s take a look at how it all went down.
The big guns all made it through the initial stages of The Search at Rottnest unscathed, though there were a couple of reasonably high-profile names eliminated in the first Elimination Round. One was the 42-year-old Taj Burrow making a wildcard appearance, while France’s Jeremy Flores was also disappointing in failing to advance to the Round of 32.
That round, however, was not so kind to some of the top seeds. After winning at Margaret River, Filipe Toledo was knocked out in a big upset by Aussie Liam O’Brien, before local hope Jack Robinson got knocked out in the next heat. Frederico Morais lost immediately after, while a few heats later, it was Griffin Colapinto – who has shown huge improvement to start the season – who went down.
That left things wide open in the upper echelon of the world rankings, and there were a handful of guys who took advantage. Morgan Cibilic was one – his quality surfing throughout the Australian leg continued to get rewarded as he advanced with relative ease through to the quarter finals, but it was Yago Dora who stole the show with a mammoth score of 18.67 in the Round of 16.
He would go on to be knocked out in the quarters by Italo Ferreira, while Cibilic continued his winning form by knocking out fellow Aussie Julian Wilson. Elsewhere, Gabriel Medina continued his incredible form by scraping over the line against Conner Coffin, while the impressive Liam O’Brien snuck over Miguel Popo.
That left the top two surfers in the world in the semis alongside two much lesser-known Aussies, but in a quirk of the draw Medina and Ferreira matched up in the semis. Cibilic defeated O’Brien in the first semi-final, making his way to a first final in a season in which much of his surfing has warranted such a result, before Medina defeated Ferreira fairly comfortably to make it through to his fourth final in five events this season.
It appeared likely as though the winner would come out of that second semi-final heat, and that ultimately proved true. Cibilic managed a 7.27 on a single wave in the final, but he couldn’t muster up a single other score higher than 0.6. That won’t cut it against Medina, who put together a 15.5 in difficult conditions to win his second event for the season and open up an even bigger gap on second in the world rankings.
Medina now has double the points that John John Florence, who is in sixth, has, meaning he is already virtually assured a spot at Trestles as a top-five finisher come season’s end. Much the same can be said for Ferreira, who, though comfortably below Medina, has a big lead on third place. It gets tight thereafter, which makes for an exciting second half of the season in the lead-in to Trestles. Jordy Smith, Toledo and Cibilic now round out the top five and are currently in positions to make the season-ending event, but John John, Coffin, Colapinto and the consistent Kanoa Igarashi are primed to pounce.
The women’s side of The Search started off with a huge surprise, with Margaret River winner Tatiana Weston-Webb being eliminated straight off the bat. She struggled mightily with conditions, managing just a 6.17 to finish last in the Seeding Round before a measly 4.77 in the Elimination Round, making her the first woman eliminated and giving her literally the exact opposite result to the week prior.
The Round of 16 also saw numerous upsets as the top dominos continued to fall. Caroline Marks was eliminated in the first heat, giving her a second consecutive Round of 16 loss, before an hour later Steph Gilmore was knocked out by Nikki Van Dijk. Normality was restored thereafter as both Tyler Wright and Carissa Moore advanced, but a Courtney Conlogue defeat to end the round left us with a surprising list of names in the quarter finals.
Included among the surprise quarter finalists were Malia Manuel, Nikki van Dijk, Isabella Nichols and Amuro Tsuzuki, but they were all promptly eliminated by their more highly fancied opponents. Sally Fitzgibbons and Carissa Moore were the most impressive, putting together scores of 15.1 and 16.53 respectively, while Tyler Wright and Johanne Defay were also solid.
The first semi-final saw the talented Australian pair of Fitzgibbons and Wright go head-to-head, but Fitzgibbons was far too strong when putting together a second consecutive heat score of 15+. The second heat was much more closely contested, and Defay ended up springing a big shock in defeating world number one Tyler Wright for a spot in the final.
The final was a quality one, but Fitzgibbons was the deserved winner. She not only put together the top score of the heat, but also managed five scores in excess of 6 compared to the one from Defay. Defay’s second best score was just a 4.00, which saw her comfortably beaten by Fitzgibbons’ third consecutive score of 15+.
The win saw Fitzgibbons catapult up the rankings after four consecutive solid but unspectacular results to start the season, passing Weston-Webb, Wright, Gilmore and Marks to move into second place behind Moore. Weston-Webb held onto third place despite her poor performance, but all four of Wright, Gilmore, Defay and Marks are sitting just below her. Isabella Nicholls sits eighth in what has been an impressive season, before a little drop-off to the next few surfers.
After a hectic couple of months of competition, the World Surf League’s Championship Tour will finally take something of a breather, with no tournaments scheduled for the next three weeks. Transmission will resume on the 18th of June, when the best surfers in the world head to Kelly Slater’s surf ranch for the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro, which will run over just three action-filled days of surfing.