There was always some pain waiting at the end of a pleasant road for the Australians on the Championship Tour who traveled to the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. They just thought it would be a little longer before they had to face the music.
Anyone entering Australia from overseas has to spend two weeks in a hotel room to ensure they don't bring covid into the community. When the Sunset Open was canceled, Australian athletes had to decide if they wanted to keep surfing on the North Shore, or get their 14-day stint over and done with.
It's not an easy choice. When they left Australia -- knowing the quarantine was waiting for them on their return -- the understanding was that they'd get three Championship Tour events under their belts before swallowing the bitter pill. Covid ruins plans left, right and center though, and for some it was easier to get it done and get on with preparing for the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach in April, regardless of how good the waves are in Hawaii.
"The swell never stopped, it was so fun. I don't think we had a day off from waves to be honest," said Macy Callaghan, from the hotel room in which she'll have to spend the next two weeks. It's right next door to Nikki Van Dijk's, who has also recently arrived back in Australia.
Macy is in with her partner Sheldon Simkus, and said having someone to talk to would make the time a little easier -- but it was hard to spend Christmas and New Years away from family while also surfing through a challenging stint on the North Shore, a surfing pantheon equally famous for its waves as its uncompromising, intense atmosphere.
"I expected the bigger waves, the bigger boards and the crowds," says Macy, pointing out that while surfing big sunset may not always be exactly enjoyable, it's those challenging sessions where you learn a lot.
To set the scene, the room doesn't have any windows -- so it's a far cry from the balmy weather and fresh air of a tropical paradise. But there's a stationary bike on the way, and while there's no getting out of the room until you're time is done, you can order almost anything in.
Quarantining people in hotels is a keystone of Australia's response to the covid epidemic, and has been widely credited with helping the country avoid the large-scale outbreaks suffered in Europe and North America.
"Australia is like, the most locked-down country on earth right now," Championship Tour Rookie Isabella Nichols told the WSL before boarding her flight back to Australia.
"We've actually just had a new strain on Covid detected in Brisbane, so literally the government has just gone, ahh lock it down!"
While the sacrifice pales in comparison to the pain people have endured since the crisis began, two weeks cooped up ain't nothing -- athletes feel downright blessed to have been able to travel and compete, but you can't help but feel for them now, trying to make the most of what is likely the longest they've ever spent indoors in their lives.
Some probably would have stayed in Hawaii a little longer if it wasn't for a recent government decision to reduce the number of people who can arrive in Australia each week. They'd already spent a year at home, and the waves in Summer are generally a lackluster affair. But with the chance it might become difficult to actually get home at all, it was time to get out while the getting was good.
"No one really wants to get cooped up in in a hotel for two weeks. I wanted to do it as quickly as possible to get back into surfing and training as quickly as possible to get ready for Bells," said Connor O'Leary, from his hotel room in Sydney.
"I'm in the Sheraton -- it's way more spacey than I thought it was going to be.
"I haven't really made a plan yet -- I'll try and make some sort of daily routine to pass the days. We're actually in for 15 days, because they count the nights, not the days," he says.
While there's no sugar coating how frustrating it is to have events canceled, O'Leary points out that it would be almost impossible for a surfer to say no to six weeks on the North Shore. He spent much of his time scoring waves with fellow Australian CT surfer Wade Carmichael, who's also made the journey back to Australia.
"For the Pipeline Masters ... its not like you're going to say no.
"To be able to surf Pipe with two other people, and to experience a heat at Pipe with John [John Florence] was a great experience. That's something I'll always remember."