The rookie class of 2020 can be forgiven for thinking that the surfing Gods have been conspiring against them. Having been forced to wait the year to make their debut on the CT due to Covid, they now have to do it at Pipeline and Honolua Bay. Surfing these powerful and iconic waves is a challenging proposition enough on its own, to do it your first CT event is almost downright cruel.
For the last 20 years, the opening CT event for both the Men's and Women's have been held at Snapper Rocks. Sure the task was daunting; the nerves of surfing against the world's elite surfers were magnified by the huge crowds that lined the beach. Yet the wave itself doesn't exactly instill any fear. Most surfers were instead pumped to surf one of the world's most perfect, and crowded, pointbreaks with just one other surfer.
Pipeline and Honolua Bay however provide a much more intimidating prospect. The lack of surfers in the lineup, far from being an advantage, can expose any lack of knowledge and ability at the waves. There's nowhere to hide, and nowhere to run.
Of course, these rookies haven't made it into the top 32 surfers in the world for nothing. In the Men's we've already discussed how Jack Robinson will enter the Pipe Masters as one of the heaviest fancied rookies since John John Florence broke into the CT ranks in 2011.
Mathew McGillivray and Morgan Cibillic however have far less history and pedigree at Pipeline. The South African McGillivray will no doubt draw on his QS success in Hawaii last year that ensured his qualification. Yet Haleiwa and Sunset better suit the style of the natural footer from Jeffreys Bay, and Pipeline will test his backside tuberiding technique.
Cibilic is even more of an unknown. In 2019 he jumped 100 QS spots in 12 months after a solid European leg was backed by some solid performances in Hawaii. His profile has risen since, helped by a starring, and hilarious, turn in Rip Curl's surf film "Postcards From Morgs". Yet Pipeline is no laughing matter, and while he is known for his power-based surfing, it will be a huge test for the 21-year-old.
Over on Maui, Honolua Bay offers a different type of test. While there is a far more level of perfection compared to Pipeline, make no mistake, this is a challenging wave with heavy consequences when it's in full cry. It is also a wave with many moods, and so understanding it's ephemeral personality can take a lifetime. That all means Isabella Nichols will have one of the sterner tests ever faced by rookies.
On the plus side for Nichols, the World Junior Champion's style has been compared to a mix of Carissa Moore and Stephanie Gilmore. Those two have won eight CT events on Maui, so not a bad duo to try to channel. Her win at the Boost Mobile Pro at Stradbroke Island, also showed she can more than hold her own in solid, barreling conditions. If she can can replicate that form she has an outside chance of being the first rookie since Lakey Peterson at the 2012 Nike US Open of Surfing to win an event.
Having waited 12 months since being confirmed of their CT status, the overriding desire of all the rookie surfers will no doubt be; let's just get this thing on. While the locations provide the biggest test ever faced by a rookie class, they also provide an incredible opportunity to start their careers at two of the most iconic waves in surfing. They've waited long enough.