Isabella Nichols has clinched her first major World Surf League (WSL) Qualifying Series (QS) win, taking out the 2019 Port Stephens Toyota Pro presented by Sisstrevolution QS6,000 at Birubi Beach. Nichols took down fellow Australian Macy Callaghan in the 35-minute final where the two went toe-to-toe in clean three-to-four foot waves for the last WSL Women's QS event of the 2019 season.
After finishing runner-up in the first two QS6,000 events of the year, Nichols was placed in a solid position to qualify for the elite Championship Tour and locked in her spot with a few events to go in the season. The only boxes left to tick were a major event win and to take the title of QS Champion for 2019. Today's win gifted Nichols both of these goals.
"Words can't even explain what I'm feeling right now," Nichols said. "I had a few second places already this year, which was great but to finally get a win, in the last contest, at the end of the year -- it feels unreal. Coming into this year I wanted to win a QS event which I've done now, but to win the entire series is so sick."
Nichols was a standout all event, posting excellent rides all through finals day including a near-perfect 9.77 in her Semifinal. In the final against Callaghan, Nichols was trailing for the entire matchup, only clinching the win with only 5 minutes remaining.
"This is one of the most fun beach-breaks I've ever surfed. We've had plenty of waves all week and today was pumping. It was awesome coming up against Macy in the Final, she's been on fire all week and was going to be a tough one to beat so I'm glad I got the job done."
2019 Championship Tour rookie Macy Callaghan has had a tough competitive season, struggling to find a solid result on both the CT and QS tours and looked as if she was going to drop off the Elite CT at seasons end. Callaghan, like last year, needed to make the final at the Port Stephens Toyota Pro to guarantee herself a spot on the Championship Tour in 2020. In true clutch style, Callaghan tore through the field to lock herself a spot in the Final and a spot on the ‘dream tour' next year.
"Today felt exactly the same as last year," Callaghan said. "I was super nervous, but I did feel strangely comfortable - I think because I really love it here at Birubi. I knew what I needed to do today and that was just surf well and put a few heats together. It's been a super long and tiring day but with really fun waves. It was great to share a final with Bella (Nichols) and I'm stoked to have a new face on tour next year. She's such a great surfer so I knew it was going to be hard. In the end, she got me but that's all good."
Two surfers that did enough to guarantee their spots on the elite Championship Tour in 2020 were Keely Andrew and Brisa Hennessy. Andrew, who fell off tour at the end of 2018 and surfed as an injury replacement for Tyler Wright this year locked herself in as a full-time competitor in 2020 with a fifth-place finish at Port Stephens. Hennessy finished equal third and with that will return next year.
Unfortunately for youngsters Mahina Maeda and Zahli Kelly, their earlier than hoped eliminations today meant their dreams of making the CT cut for 2020 are now over. Both surfers will hit the 2020 Challenger and Qualifying Series events hard with their new high seed starting spots.
Japanese competitor Amuro Tsuzuki's qualification situation will hang in the balance until the final women's Championship Tour event runs in Maui. If Brisa Hennessy stays in the top 10 on the CT rankings, Tsuzuki will take the last spot on the 2020 CT.