- WSL / Cait Miers

The Men's Round of 32 of the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup presented by Corona saw some edge-of-your seat moments and big upsets, with the Top Seed knocked out of the event and two of the most progressive surfers on tour putting on an air show.

Could We See A New Leader?

John John Florence has been knocked out of the event by a Rookie bagging his first heat win of the year, and it's fair to say, not a lot people saw it coming. In fact, 47.4% of Fantasy players had him locked as their Power Surfer.

And now after Morgan Cibilic's convincing victory over the World No. 1, a door has been opened for a new rankings leader.

If Gabriel Medina finishes fifth or better, he'll take the lead, and Florence's exit also opens the door for a solid points grab by World No. 3 and current defending World Champ Italo Ferreira.

NEWCASTLE, AUS - APRIL 8: Two-time WSL Champion Gabriel Medina of Brazil surfing in Heat 1 of Round 3 of the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup presented by Corona on April 8, 2021 in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Matt Dunbar/World Surf League via Getty Images) Gabriel Medina opened up about his decision to work with a new surf coach in Andy King - WSL / Matt Dunbar

A Big Moment For Morgan

What was going through Morgan Cibilic's head when he pulled his jersey on for a heat against Florence this morning? An injured ankle had kept him out of the water for days, and until the event was called on, it was unclear if he'd even be able to compete.

But despite the injury he's won a heat almost everyone expected him to lose, racking up the highest heat total of the event so far in the process.

That means valuable points for Cibilic, securing his place in the Round of 16, and a spot seared in the memory of the home crowd here at Merewether, who watched their local hero rise to the occasion against arguably the best surfer in the world right now, who had been in a form which looked unstoppable.

"I wasn't sure if I was going to compete in the whole Aussie leg, I got my scans and stuff and the doctors were like: you should be right for the last three, and then all of a sudden all my bone bruising cleared up after 48 hours, and I could start to walk a little bit again," Cibilic told the WSL after his heat.

"Bottle [his coach] and me were talking, and he was like, you can still make this heat at 70 per cent and just to use the right tactics.

"After ten minutes, I was like, I could maybe win this… I'm winning at the moment and I just need to play my cards right. I lost priority at the end, stupidly, and I was like, I'm done here, and then he went a wobbly one and then the one after was an absolute bomb. For the last few minutes I just couldn't stop smiling.

NEWCASTLE, AUS - APRIL 8: Morgan Cibilic of Australia surfing in Heat 5 of Round 3 of the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup presented by Corona and defeating two-time WSL Champion John John Florence of Hawaii to advance to the next round on April 8, 2021 in Newcastl It will be hard to wipe the smile off Morgan Cibilic's face - WSL / Matt Dunbar

A New Strategy Paying Off For Medina, Wave Counts Remain High And A Serious Milestone

Gabriel Medina was first up today in his heat against Connor O'Leary, who took him to task but wasn't enough to stop the two-time World Champion.

Medina secured his win with a backside reverse on a day when progressive maneuvers were highly rewarded, but it was the insight into his decision to go with a new surf coach after his heat which was of special interest.

Medina had been traveling and working with stepfather Charlie for his entire career, but has now enlisted Andy King, the coach who helped Mick Fanning to two of his three Titles.

"There are a lot of things that he [Andy] tells me that he feels on the board as well, because he's a goofy, he surfs good, everything that he tells me, even the rail, speed or something ... I know what he's telling me, you know, because I feel the same [thing]," Medina said.

Who Goes Faster On Their Backhand Than Italo Ferreira?
Italo Ferreira took out Wildcard Jackson Baker in trademark fashion, catching as many waves as he could and holding nothing back.

Meanwhile, compatriot Adriano de Souza today surfed his 500th heat. This is a special milestone for the 2015 World Champion, who will be retiring from the CT at the end of the year.

And speaking of big numbers, Italo Ferreira continued his strategy of catching as many waves as possible in his win against local wildcard Jackson Baker, while Alex Ribeiro continued in the same vein, riding 17 waves in his heat against Jordy Smith.

A Yago And Filipe Air Show

Yago Dora was a world-class freesurfer before he arrived on the Championship Tour, and sometimes he likes to remind everyone. In his heat against Jack Freestone he showed he'd gotten the progressive surfing memo loud and clear, throwing some big inverted spins amongst a grab-bag of tricks which saw him take the win in the second-last heat of the day.

But it was Filipe Toledo who seemed to save the best for last, going to town on the inside bank at Merewether. Filipe is widely considered one of (if not the) best small wave surfers on Tour, and with the tide still low and a light easterly breeze feathering the lips, Toledo was soon throwing some big, inverted airs of his own as well as linking big turns, going faster than would seem possible in these conditions.

Filipe may have raised a few questions at Pipeline, with a performance well short of his potential, but in this second event of the season he's provided a pressing reminder that there's certain waves in which he's all but unstoppable, as Leonardo Fioravanti found out, even if he hucked a very impressive air reverse of his own in the final minutes.

"I just try to put my variety into every wave, just go for airs, big turns, carves," Toledo said after his victory.

What To Watch Out For

Toledo and Dora put on a legitimate air show in their respective heats, and now they're going to meet each other in the Round of 16. Meanwhile, today's hero Cibilic is facing Wade Carmichael in an all-Aussie match up, while the women's Quarterfinals will begin with seven-time World Champion Stephanie Gilmore against up-and-coming talent (and hero of the Women's Round of 16) Isabella Nichols.

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