With a combination of power-surfing, perseverance and a steep learning curve, rookie Keely Andrew has come out on top after her first season on the Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour. Not only will she be back on Tour for 2017, but she will earn the prestigious Rookie of the Year award.
Andrew joins an elite list of pros who have won the award, including 3-time World Champion Carissa Moore and 6-time World Champion Stephanie Gilmore.
But like all rookies, year one on tour wasn't all heat wins and accolades. Andrew's results on the CT have been mixed, with both difficult early-round losses and triumphant moments of brilliance. Her end-of-year ranking is No. 14, four spots below the cutoff.
To back herself up, the 21-year-old did double competitive duty, grinding away on the Qualification Series (QS) alongside her CT schedule to ensure that she requalified (only the top 10 on the CT rankings get to stay there the next year; the top six surfers on the QS rankings, not including double-qualifiers, qualify as well).
The effort paid off: Andrew is finishing the year in equal-second place, safe and sound. Among her best results there was a third-place finish at the Burleigh Pro, a QS1,000; a win at the high-stakes Copa El Salvador Impresionante, a QS6,000, and a third at the Sydney International Women's Pro, another 6,000. Those strong performances, along with more consistent results on the QS overall, set her up with a nice backup plan.
Among her high points on the CT, Andrew kicked off 2016 with a massive Round One win at the Roxy Pro Gold Coast, where she took down both Gilmore and Tatiana Weston-Webb, last year's Rookie of the Year. She didn't earn better than a ninth place for the first half of the year, but in August she had a big breakthrough at the Vans US Open of Surfing, where she earned a Round Four win over reigning World Champ Carissa Moore.
"Just having the opportunity to surf against Carissa is insane -- she's always been one of my influences growing up," Andrew said. "My favorite moment of the year was the entire US Open event. Being able to have a Quarterfinal finish and take down a couple of heavy-hitters on the way was pretty cool."
"I learned that it's hard to make the Top 17 and it's even harder to stay there," she said. "The World Tour is no game and you have to be putting in 110 percent all year. I also learned that I need to be confident in my own ability and not to hold back in my heats. It was definitely a year for the books."
At the Maui Women's Pro, the final CT event of the year, things were looking up for Andrew. She arrived firing on all cylinders with an important Round One heat win over last year's event runner-up, Sally Fitzgibbons, and current World No. 5, Johanne Defay. Andrew also took out Coco Ho during the Quarterfinals when she scored a solid 7.83, despite challenging conditions, eventually coming up short during the Semifinals against World Champ Tyler Wright.
"I've come into this event with a more relaxed vibe, having requalified through the QS so I'm just going to try and have fun with it," Andrew said at the final event of the year, the Maui Women's Pro. "I went home and put a lot of work in at the gym working on a lot of strength and power so I'm stoked it's paying off here. I'm on really good boards from JR so I'm super happy with how that [first Maui] heat went."
Andrew's success continued well into the Maui contest: In a perfect cap to the year, she earned a third-place finish; her best result of the season.