Last March, the best surfers in the world landed in Australia. Steadying themselves for their 2020 campaigns, for some this meant getting their feet into the wax in early-season Qualifying Events. For others it meant training sessions up and down the coast. Then, like a thunder clap, the planet was hobbled by the coronavirus pandemic and the surfy life everyone was living changed in ways that nobody could have been expected.
For the last six months professional surfing has been on ice. No jerseys. No judges. No last-second rides. It's just been dreams put on hold and empty podiums.
The Rumble at the Ranch broke the seal last month as Filipe Toledo and Coco Ho ushered in the WSL Countdown Series with an inspired team victory. This weekend the Tweed Coast Pro will welcome competitors back to their natural home, the ocean.
The first installment of the Australian Grand Slam, the surf is looking solid and there's plenty of talent in both the men's and women's draw. Set to be held at Cabarita, the beach is a magnet for swell along the Tweed Coast. Home of aerial innovator Chippa Wilson, the area can offer up small, punchy wedges, hollow A-frames, and even quality pointbreak walls, it all depends on what the swell, tides and wind are doing.
Given the array of elite surfers in the draw and the positive forecast models, there is no shortage of intrigue and storylines. Consider that for the first time this year, the entirety of the Australian Olympic team will all be competing together. We're talking the best of the Lucky Country: Stephanie Gilmore, Sally Fitzgibbons, Julian Wilson and Owen Wright. Unfortunately, like the Championship Tour, the Olympic Games were postponed this summer but plans are already being hatched for next year.
And then there's the much celebrated class of rookies that will trying to prove that they're worthy to compete alongside their Olympic brethren. Jack Robinson anchors the class. He has been on absolute tear at home in Western Australia over the last several months. From sessions at The Right to scoring his local beaches at their best, all reports about Robo would indicate that he's surfing better than ever at the moment…a scary proposition for whoever draws him in a heat.
Isabella Nichols has also been surfing her brains out lately. During the hiatus she picked up a jet ski, which she's put to good use around the Gold and Tweed Coasts. Between all the surfing she's been doing, as well as the training, all the hard yards are paying off huge. She's looking strong, confident and determined.
It'll also be interesting to see how the Wright family performs. All three of them, Owen, Tyler and Mikey, are seeded into the event. We haven't seen a lot of Tyler and Mikey over the last year as they've both struggled to overcome their respective injuries and ailments, but the whole family will be back on the beach together, which should be a lot of fun to watch. They all have the talent to take the event. Who knows, maybe it'll be a Wright sweep of the podium?
Whatever happens and whoever wins, the Aussies are pulling the jerseys back on again and it's a wonderful thing. It's not only the first WSL event Down Under since the season was forced to hit pause, it's a chance for the global surf community to celebrate something we've been missing lately, including the fire, the passion, the last-second heroics and the big performances that the world's best surfers bring every time they paddle out.