Few people knew the name Morgan Cibilic until this year. But halfway through the Australian leg of the Championship Tour, he's been thrust into the spotlight.
After bursting out of the gates at the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup presented by Corona and eliminating 2x World Champion John John Florence, the whole world was put on notice. Then he did it again, at the Rip Curl Narrabeen Classic presented by Corona, once again knocking Florence out of the event.
At both these events, it was only two-time World Champion Gabriel Medina who was able to stop Cibilic, who is in his Rookie Year on Tour. While many debutants struggle to find their footing on the CT, he's been an exception and revelation to Australian surf fans. And his critical ascent has had two distinct chapters.
In 2017, Cibilic was way down the QS rankings, and by way down, we mean he was down at 416th. However, two years later he was ranked 11th on the QS and punching his ticket to surfing's biggest stage.
Having been forced to sit out the 2020 season due to the COVID pandemic, Cibilic then had an extra year to fine-tune his entire approach. How he chose to spend this extra time preparing has clearly made all the difference; he's come charging out of the gates with a winner's composure and assured surfing.
He also made the switch to Sharp Eye surfboards after qualifying riding Will Webber shapes ,and released his bio-pic, ‘Rip Curl's Postcards From Morgs' featuring an all all-star cast including Mick Fanning, Tyler Wright, and Owen Wright. Set against the backdrop of the best east coast winter in the past decade, we got the first taste of Ciblic's youthful energy and rip-and-tear approach.
Now he's the highest-ranked Australian on tour, and knocking on the door for a Final Five World Title showdown at Trestles. Three CT events into his Rookie year, Cibilic is ranked 6th in the world and looking every bit like he belongs.
After surfing the heats of his career at Newcastle, Cibilic put down the sudden leap in performance down to a combination of good coaching, mental maturity, and realising that you can't leave anything on the table when performing against the world's best.
"When I qualified that year I kind of found a new headspace where I was able to stay relaxed in my heats and focus on myself and not anyone else who's in it. And I dunno, I've just been trying to go big. On the world stage now you can't be holding back," he told the WSL.
He's also been working closely with coach Jay ‘Bottle' Thompson. With a wealth of knowledge and charismatic personality, the former CT surfer has a history of working with Ciblic during his time at Surfing Australia, and is passionate about putting Australia back at the top of the mantle in the men's division.
But can the Australian carry that momentum into Western Australia? That's the question many fans are asking right now.
With an XL swell forecast for the opening days of the Boost Mobile Margaret River Pro presented by Corona, the world's best are set to trade out their favourite rip sticks for step-ups and semi-guns.
Having set the blueprint for what generated excellent scores at the first two events, the Australian will be closely watched at the upcoming third event of the Australian leg.
If he can surf with the same aggression and authority in the big stuff as he did on the east coast, Cibilic will be a name that we'll be hearing for many years to come.