Of the nine new rookies on the men's and women's Championship Tours this season, five advanced through to Round 3 or beyond at Snapper, making their impact immediately felt at the elite level. The big standouts were Conner Coffin, Caio Ibelli, Kanoa Igarashi and Keely Andrew, but even a handful who lost early
Californians, Coffin and Igarashi faced serious tests in their first round matches. Coffin was matched against Kelly Slater and eventual event champion Matt Wilkinson, while Igarashi faced veterans Josh Kerr and Taj Burrow. While both rookies finished last in their "welcome to the big league" heats, they put up valiant fights, and came in energized, as if they actually appreciated their hazing.
By Round 2 neither was showing signs of nerves. Coffin topped last year's Rookie of the Year, Italo Ferreira as he utilized his rail game, while Igarashi surprised more than a few people with some mature turns of his own during his narrow victory over Hawaii's Keanu Asing.
Meanwhile, Brazil's Caio Ibelli showed us why he topped the QS rankings last year. After losing to Gabe Medina and Sebastian Zietz in Round 1, we saw the first friendly-fire battle among rookies, as Caio drew hometown hero Jack Freestone in Round 2. While prognosticators gave Freestone the home court advantage, Caio, who earned a couple CT replacement spot last year, tapped that experience by staying busy in the slow heat, catching ten waves to Freestone's five.
The strategy worked for Ibelli. Freestone never found his groove with the sets, and couldn't showcase his repertoire. The result was a disappointing missed opportunity for Freestone, who wasn't seen on site the rest of the week. Caio, meanwhile, surfed energetically, turning a couple average looking waves into a pair of 6's that got him over the hump. The same method helped him get past Josh Kerr in Round 3.
Australian goofyfooter Ryan Callinan pulled one of the bigger upsets of the event in Round 2, taking down a rejuvenated Jordy Smith with his lightning quick backhand attack. Unfortunately for Callinan, he ran into the buzzsaw that is Filipe Toledo in Round 3, and Toledo's performance in that heat in particular was one of his best of the entire event.
Narrabeen's Davey Cathels fell just shy of winning his first round heat, finishing between Jeremy Flores and Ace Buchan. In Round 2 he had the unfortunate luck of drawing John John Florence. Nevertheless, he put up a valiant fight, taking Florence the distance in the heat.
Brazil's Alex Ribeiro had a similar story to Cathels. He fell just shy of winning his first heat as well, despite being on crutches earlier in the week due to slicing his foot open. Nat Young edged him by a half a point in Round 1, while in the next round he was out-gunned in his backhand battle against Ace Buchan.
Keely Andrew backed her coache's pre-event prediction that her surfing would "say it all" at Snapper. The Sunshine Coast surprised everyone with the first upset of the entire event, winning her Round 1 heat over six-time World Champ Stephanie Gilmore and 2015 Rookie of the Year Tatiana Weston-Webb. But Weston-Webb got her revenge on Andrew in Round 3, and Sage Ericson finished the rookie off in Round 4 with a commanding performance.
Chelsea Tuach was oozing confidence, poise, and perspective in her pre-event interviews. The Barbados national looked in form in Round 1, besting Isabella Nicols in the three-person heat. Unfortunately for Tuach, the other person in the heat was world champion Carissa Moore. Eventual Semifinalist Johanne Defay ended Tuach's run in Round 2 in a one-sided affair.
Western Australia's Bronte Macaulay may not be a full-time member of the elite tour yet, but by taking out world-title contender Sally Fitzgibbonsthe injury replacement made a strong case for it. Bronte will get another crack at Bells, while entering as Lakey Peterson's injury replacement.
And while technically not a rookie, 2016 is likely to going to be remembered as Stuart Kennedy's rookie year if the injuries keep piling up, and he keeps getting replacements (something he already has through the Australian leg). By eliminating Kelly Slater, Gabriel Medina and John John Florence he became the biggest story of the entire event.