A lifetime's worth of work put on ice in the blink of an eye. For the rookie class of the 2020 Championship Tour, the last six months have been cruel. After finally standing on the doorstep of their dreams, the pandemic hit and the CT season was halted. But collectively they've all sucked it up and kept their eyes squarely focused on the horizon.
And now, professional surfing returns this week with the first installment of the Australian Grand Slam, the Tweed Coast Pro. The tentative heat draw for the event at Cabarita is stacked with big names, including a pair of World Champions, the entire Australian Olympic Team, several CT Veterans, as well as a particularly tenacious gang of rookies.
Last year, three of the five rookies that emerged from the the Qualifying Series were Australian. And this weekend we'll see four out of the five rookies in action on the Tweed Coast. The only surfer we won't see is Japan's Amuro Tsuzuki.
The Aussies, Isabella Nichols, Jack Robinson and Morgan Cibilic, are a tough, gritty, resilient lot. When the going got tough, they kept surfing, and now they have the opportunity to show the world what they've got.
Hailing from the Sunny Coast, Nichols is no stranger to the beachbreak conditions we'll be seeing at Cabarita. As of late her surfing is looking strong and poised. She picked up a new jet ski a few months ago and has been surfing a ton, and it shows -- at least on her Insta feed. It's also worth noting that she topped the podium at the 2018 Mothernest Tweed Coast Pro in pumping surf, likely similar to what we'll be seeing this weekend.
Meanwhile, for the men's draw, Robinson, Cibilic and Matthew McGillivray, who's South Africa's lone rookie and has stationed himself in Oz, have been waiting in anticipation to throw the jersey on once again.
Robinson had an emotional Tour qualification last year after winning the 2019 Vans World Cup of Surfing at Sunset. He dominated the entire event, but during the Final, Robo dropped two hefty 9-pointers, for a near perfect heat of 19.07. This wasn't the first time he went near-perfect up against CT stars. As a wildcard at the 2019 Margaret River Pro, he took out Filipe Toledo at The Box with a 9.27 and a 9.30 in one of the best displays of critical barrel riding we saw all season.
To get to know Cibilic, go watch the new film "Postcards From Morgs." The latest chapter in Rip Curl's Search series, it's just as funny as the surfing is beautiful, and you'll see why "Morgs" is a serious threat on the Tweed Coast. He also earned himself the 'Rookie of the Year' award at the Vans Triple Crown Surfing last year, ultimately qualifying for the 2020 CT midway through the Pipe Masters when his spot was finally finalized.
McGillivray, from Jeffreys Bay, has spent the majority of the extended off-season in Australia. As a Rip Curl teamster, he also played a big part in "Postcards From Morgs." He'll now be the second South African on the Championship Tour alongside the lion himself, Jordy Smith, whom he spent much of last year training with on the North Shore. As you could expect from a regular-footer who grew up at J-Bay, McGillivray has a precise, dominant forehand attack that can be deployed in any type of conditions.
So, what can we expect to see as competition returns to Australia for the Tweed Coast Pro? Well, the forecast looks promising with 4 to 6-foot faces thanks to an ESE trade swell and light winds from the ESE. But what we really hope to see is these rookies unleashing their best surfing after months of training and anticipation for the Championship Tour. Now's the time.