The shifting, heaving lineup at South Stradbroke Island has provided a glimpse into the futures of two Championship Tour stars-in-waiting after Australians Mikey Wright and Isabella Nichols won the Boost Mobile Pro Gold Coast.
It may have been big and clean early but it was soon apparent that adaptability was going to secure victory on Day Two, and that's exactly where Wright and Nichols shone through. These are important victories for two surfers who have worked through their own challenges to get on top of their game.
By midmorning the barrel was harder to find. Surfers had arrived expecting it would be an all-out tube fest but it soon became as much about the turns, and especially about hitting back at the violent end sections -- a Mikey Wright specialty.
Nichols surfed with a maturity and deftness to secure the win, adapting to the conditions and putting some of the hard work she's done in the offseason to good use. She kept the pressure on Nikki Van Dijk in their Semifinal, employing the heat strategy of a seasoned veteran and picking off the best of what was on offer in a slow heat, wave-wise.
This was meant to be her dream Rookie year on the Championship Tour, which in turn was the reward for a grind on the QS after almost giving professional surfing away not too long ago.
Things didn't go to plan in 2020, but Nichols has rolled with the punches, getting a jetski license and surfing South Stradbroke Island as much as possible.
"Like I said yesterday, I think I'll be having to have fifty showers because I have sand absolutely everywhere, I think my stacks were better than my waves," Nichols said of the wipeouts that were part and parcel of competing at Straddie these past few days.
"That last heat came and went pretty quick and I'm just happy to surf a contest again," she said. "I'm going to continue surfing [ahead of Marget River] and I'm going to continue coming here, I feel like there's a lot of water moving here, as there is in WA."
She's now the Jeep Leader and will be going into the third stop of the Australian Grand Slam with a lot of confidence. She spent some time training at Margret River early this year, and will be the surfer to beat in Western Australia.
Meanwhile, Mikey Wright put it all together in his final against Liam O'Brien posting the highest single score of the event, a 9.83. He found one of the few good barrels and then attacked with turns straight from his no-holds-barred playbook.
It was a look into what the future might hold for Wright, who had planned to spend the first few months of 2020 battling for a Championship Tour injury wildcard spot on the CT against Leonardo Fioravanti after being sidelined for an extended period due to an injury.
His performance today has shown he's ready for a full-time spot on the Championship Tour, after finding the deepest barrels, cracking the most critical turns and adapting to the conditions on Day Two. It looks like he's found a rich vein of form, perhaps thanks to a relaxed approach during the extended off-season.
"It's funny, I actually haven't done too much training, more so just surfing, really," Wright said in a post-heat interview after winning his Quarterfinal.
"Obviously it's been a weird year but it's been good to chase waves and chase fish and go for a few hunts," he said. While he's downplayed the work required, there's no doubt he's fought hard to once again reclaim his place among the world's best competitors.
Wright found a whole new gear in the Final against Liam O'Brien -- a form surfer throughout the event, who has surfed South Stradbroke Island as much as anyone in the draw and was looking hard-to-beat throughout .
"I just went out and got another barrel. I just kind of sat down in clear water and let them come to me," Wright said after his victory.
"I actually didn't surf a heat from April last year until Cabarita [The Tweed Coast Pro]," Wright said, "I'm excited for what's to come."