With the Australian Leg of the Championship Tour set to kick off on April 1st, we're taking a look at four of the dreaded heat draws going into Newcastle. To be the best you gotta beat the best, and these are the toughest competitors on Tour.
If Jack Robinson wasn't sick of hearing how much potential he had before a year on the Covid bench -- from his rookie year on Tour, to a truncated Hawaii leg, to two weeks cooped up in a hotel room in Sydney -- he probably is now.
Great expectations have followed Robinson ever since he burst onto the scene as a child prodigy from Western Australia who surfed his heavy, slabbing home breaks with a deftness decades more advanced than his young age really should have allowed. How could he be that good, that young?
The faith fans put in his preternatural abilities persisted through the various apertures of the surf industry limelight.
There were a few years when he wasn't front and center, but deep down, it was almost universally acknowledged that he was the Next Great Hope for Australian surfing; the best example of what a childhood in some of the most rugged surf conditions on the planet -- perhaps the most quintessentially Australian conditions -- could produce.
And then, when Robinson qualified for the Championship Tour in 2019 during a final at big Sunset Beach in which he appeared to actually summon good waves with a cosmic energy only he possess, it seemed all that faith was about to pay dividends. Robinson was finally on the CT, and the question of whether or not he could win a World Title was no longer hypothetical.
It's fair to say that few Tour rookies are as hyped as Robinson, now 23, with his graduation to the big leagues being in the same realm as when Jordy Smith and Dane Reynolds arrived back in 2008. Or when fellow child prodigy John John Florence did his first full-time year on Tour in 2012.
But with great expectations comes great pressure, and, in Jack's case, a burning motivation that should put fellow competitors on notice. Because for all its imperfections, this could be the perfect year for Robinson to prove everyone right.
There are more Championship Tour events in Australia than at any point in recent Tour history, two of them at waves Robinson knows intimately. No one on Tour knows Western Australia like Jack Robinson -- it's in his bones.
And the other two events, at Newcastle and Narrabeen, play right into a newly upgraded small-wave game which has rounded Robinson into the complete package. No one can say he's just a heavy-water specialist anymore.
"I'm just looking forward to just getting the whole Australia thing started. I haven't been this excited in a long time," Robinson told the WSL.
If he can lock in two good results on the East Coast, at the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup presented by Corona and the Rip Curl Narrabeen Classic presented by Corona, then this really could be his year. Jack has surfed all the waves around Margaret River and Rottnest Island -- the sites of the next two CTs -- far more than every other surfer on Tour. In the case of Rottnest, he's one of the few surfers who've spent time there at all.
"Strickland Bay is exactly the same as like a Margaret's Main Break but it's a smaller version, so it'll be some good surfing, some high-performance and some big airs going down, for sure," Robinson said.
"I've been there enough to know that you can get some really good sections out there. It's kind of a place you don't really go to," Robinson says of the island off the coast of Western Australia's capital city, Perth.
"But when you're in Perth, that's the best wave in Perth. I grew up in Perth until I was about five so that's that's why I would always go back there. I won't be going there expecting to be too surprised by anything," Robinson says.
With good results in Australia, and currently tied in fifth position on the WSL Leaderboard Robinson could head to waves such as Teahupoo, where he's an obvious favorite, with a very real chance of locking in a spot for the inaugural Rip Curl WSL Finals at Lower Trestles.
And once he's booked that appearance, anything is possible. If you're a fellow Tour surfer, would you want to get between Jack and the answer to the question that's been following him around most of his life?
Watch the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup presented by Corona live April 1-11.