- WSL / Kelly Cestari

Soli Bailey has just finished building his house in his hometown of Byron Bay. When the QS went on hold in 2020, the time away from competition saw the 25-year-old hit the tools, and his body is feeling it.

"Mate I'm still recovering, my back's sore two months later [laughs]. Seriously though I reckon I'm surfing better. I've got the tradie grunt [laughs]."

The Indigenous Australian pro surfer's career has been marked with moments of glory and painful losses. Bailey's win at the Volcom Pipe Pro in 2017 solidified the Aussie's reputation in waves of consequence, but he never really caught fire on the CT.

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 6: Soli Bailey of Australia placed third in Heat 3 of Round 1 of the Boost Mobile Pro Gold Coast to be eliminated from competition on October 6, 2020 in Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Kelly Cestari/World Surf League via G Soli Bailey is ready to take another crack at the Championship Tour - WSL / Kelly Cestari

"I wasn't exactly stoked on my performance throughout the year. I fell short a fair bit, I made some mistakes under pressure especially in waves that I pride myself in - heavy waves like Chopes, even Pipe."

Staring down another run on the QS in 2021, Bailey admits he felt burnt out during his time on the CT. The urge to chase both the CT and QS Tours respectively overwhelmed the then-Rookie and the experience has refashioned his approach.

"I would take a way different approach in terms of how much traveling I do. I'd try and settle myself in places a little bit better rather than just ping-ponging and going, ‘Oh I've got to get to this QS, I've got to do that.' I'd just focus on one thing and spend that time there and feel really comfortable."

Travel restrictions in Australia on overseas travel have kept Bailey on home soil for 2020 and not being able to travel to Hawaii this winter is playing heavily on his mind. That must sting even more after watching some of the waves that have been scored on the North Shore this season.

"I'm guttered about Hawaii. Hawaii has pretty much been my one place in the world that I would call my second home. I've spent pretty much every season where I've spent between four to eight weeks there since I was eight years old."

Like most pros, the COVID-19 pandemic upended familiar routines and Bailey admits to kicking back and concentrating on milking the incredible east coast winter. However, he recently got his competitive juices flowing again when an unusual opportunity presented itself.

"A few months ago, I randomly started boxing in a gym where they train amateur and professional boxers. I've been learning that in terms of the competitive side of it in a way."

Learning how to outsmart his opponents in the ring and in the water, will hopefully elevate the Australian to reach his full potential. Bailey sees the changes to the CT format as a potential opportunity for surfers of his calibre to stand and deliver when it counts.

"It probably plays into the underdog's favour in the sense that if you have a great year but not winning the year there's still a massive opportunity for you to win a title which is probably the controversial part. The best surfer may not win that year. But he should. He should still win it if he or she has nailed that year, what's to say they can't go and nail an event."

High-pressure scenarios are what Bailey thrives on and knows when conditions turn on and he's feeling it that's when he's most dangerous. If he can jump back on the CT the new format has the potential to reward surfers like Bailey with nothing to lose and everything to gain.

"Yeah 100 per cent. In terms of me personally, I know when I have that attitude and get into that mindset when I really don't have anything to lose it's probably the scariest place for someone to compete against me. That's when I do my best surfing."

The first Australian Qualifying Series event of the year is the Great Lakes Pro in February, followed by the Mad Mex Maroubra Pro, also in February and Vissla Central Coast Pro in March.

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