Heading into the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach, stop No. 3 on the Championship Tour, the jury was still out on the WSL's 2017 rookie class. It wasn't a huge sample size, but Connor O'Leary's Quarterfinal appearance at Snapper Rocks was the pinnacle of success for a crew of seven surfers making their first lap around the Dream Tour.
Meanwhile, Ethan Ewing and Leo Fioravanti, two of 2016's biggest sensations, are still searching for their first CT heat wins, despite surfing well enough to drop some jaws: Ewing posted a 9.10 on his opening ride at Snapper Rocks. Fioravanti has had multiple total heat scores in excellent range (north of 16 points). These are hardly signs of them being in over their heads.
In between it's been a mixed bag for the Tour's other four rookies, Ian Gouveia, Joan Duru, Ezekiel Lau and Frederico Morais...That is, until Bells.
Morais and Lau, the two big regularfooters of the batch, smashed all expectations at the Rip Curl Pro. Lau emphatically announced his plans for sticking around on the CT with an appearance in the Semifinals. His journey there included two early round wins over the electric Filipe Toledo, and a crucial Round Three triumph over world No. 5 Kolohe Andino.
Morais won his first CT heat at Snapper, then lost to Kelly Slater in Round Three. He finished a disappointing 25th at Margaret River -- a wave many thought suited his surfing to a tee. But in Round Three at the Bells Bowl, Morais waved his Portuguese flag in an epic clash against Gabriel Medina.
Morais flipped the script on Medina, using his opponent's favorite set of opening priority tactics against him. As tense as things got he never wavered, and his stubbornness broke the Brazilian's will, leading to his win. His 5th place finish vaulted him into a rankings tie with Mick Fanning and Michel Bourez at No. 19. That's pretty good company.