The Rip Curl Rottnest Search presented by Corona is done and dusted, and with it, the historic, four-stop Australian leg of the Championship Tour is in the books. Finals Day at Strickland Bay featured a consortium of World Champs, rookies and wildcards. The WSL Photo Department was on the beach and in the athletes' area to capture all the emotional moments and behind-the-scenes action. Here are a few of our favorite frames from a special two weeks in Western Australia:
On Top Of The World
"I grew up watching the Rip Curl Search events," Sally Fitzgibbons explained after taking her first win of 2021. "So many of them were in lefts, so it's cool to have one back and it be in a left. I don't get too many opportunities to use my strength, which is my backhand, and we may never compete back here on Rottnest, so this one really feels like a milestone. It just feels so good, I'm so stoked."
"It feels amazing to win another Search trophy all these years after my first," Gabriel Medina said after taking his second Rip Curl Search trophy. "This has been such a good start to the season for me and I'm just so happy to keep the momentum going. My wife's birthday is coming up and she said she wanted the trophy because it's so pretty, so I'm so happy to have it now."
Fitzgibbons' Foundation For Success
Any surf coach worth his salt knows that a good bottom turn is where it all starts. A veteran of the Tour and student of the game, Sally Fitzgibbons has some of the best fundamentals around and applied them with deft precision at Strickland Bay. Leaning into her backhand bottom turn, she was able to attack the lip with the speed and power needed to win the event.
"I set a goal to be in the Final 5 at the end of the year and I've been outside of it for a few events, so it's amazing to be rewarded for the work," Fitzgibbons said after taking out the event. "If you give yourself every opportunity, every now and then the planets align and you can come out with the win."
Putting It All On The Rail
Medina's air game served him well in Australia, but when it came to Finals Day at Strickland Bay, the two-time World Champ leaned into the strength of his rail game. Powerful and committed, the variety of turns and combos that he was able to string together was enough to earn him his second event win in Australia and cement his place atop the WSL Leaderboard.
"I've loved my time here in Australia and especially Rottnest," said Medina. "It's a new place for me to visit and it's so beautiful. The waves have been great the whole time and we have been so welcomed. This is a very special place and it's been such a fun event for me. I made it through a lot of tough heats and am glad to win surfing the way I want to surf. I'm so happy."
Listen To The Elders
Professor Lenny Collard, a Whadjuk Nyungar Elder and Professor at the University of Western Australia, and Kelly Collard were on hand for the awards ceremony to award Michel Bourez with a handmade Didgeridoo for the best barrel of the event. Throughout the event "Uncle" Lenny share his deep knowledge and understanding of the complicated history of Rottnest Island, the spiritual home for the Whadjuk Nyungar people. Between 1838 and 1904 the island was established as a colonial prison for almost 4,000 Aboriginal men and boys from all over Western Australia. Today it is a nature preserve with some seriously world-class surf.
Johanne Defay and Carissa Moore are tight friends when they're not in a heat together, but pull the jersey on and the dynamic changes. Defay came out swinging against Moore in the Semis and never looked back.
"It's not an easy lineup, but it was so good to have a good left on Tour this season," Defay said. "Something that I have learned to appreciate whilst being on Tour is discovering new places, and coming to Rottnest was like that for everyone. It was also a level playing field, which is rare for us on Tour and made it such an interesting event. I've had a strong start to the year, so I'm feeling like if I keep the confidence and momentum I have now, I can have my best finish to the year and be inside the top five."
Tapping Into The Zone
Morgan Cibilic has made a strong case for Rookie of the Year honors this season. Making the first Final of his CT career at Rottnest, he was strong throughout the extended Australia leg, where he stunned the world with not one, but two wins of John John Florence. Currently sitting in fifth on the WSL Leaderboard, can he hang on and make the Rip Curl WSL Finals this September?
"This feels unbelievable, to be honest," Cibilic said. "Coming into these last couple of events, I've come into them with a lot of confidence and a Final hasn't felt too out of reach, but I guess if you asked me last year if I'd get a Quarterfinal, a Semifinal, and a Final finish from the four Australian events, I would have told you that you were tripping. It feels amazing, so I'm super stoked. I was really nervous in my Semifinal against Liam, probably more so than the Final. He and I grew up competing against each other and have a pretty good rivalry and always want to beat each other. In the Final, I felt ready to go but the waves were slow and Gabby was ripping so not much I could do there. I'm still stoked though."
Who knew that Liam O'Brien was going to show up and lay waste to the Championship Tour? After stumbling in the Seeding Round, he progressive picked up momentum. Slowing the Brazilian Storm, he eliminated Filipe Toledo and Miguel Pupo before falling to his good buddy Cibilic in the Semifinals. The two surfers actually share a coach in former Tour surfer Jay "Bottle" Thompson and ran countless mock heats against one another during the extended pandemic break.
Eye Of The Tiger
Carissa Moore hasn't missed a Finals Day since 2018, and she wasn't about to break her streak at Strickland Bay. Leaning into her experience at spots like Kewalos on Oahu, she's made the most of her opportunities at the high-performance peak. Tallying a 9.50 in the Seeding Round, in a replay of their Finals duel at Narrabeen, she'll face Isabella Nichols in the Quarters.
Jules Finds His Groove
The sting of defeat has been plaguing Julian Wilson throughout the Australian leg of the CT, but finding solace in the clean, pristine surf of Strickland Bay, he's into the Quarterfinals for the first time this season and looking a lot like his old self.
Coach Andy King hasn't only been working with World Champ Gabriel Medina. He also has Seth Moniz on his roster. Helping the young Hawaiian think deeper about strategy and heat dynamics, King is also a huge cheerleader for his athletes and does an amazing job of instilling the confidence and sense of belief necessary to compete at the highest level of the sport. Unfortunately, Moniz was knocked out of the event in the Round of 16 by wildcard Liam O'Brien.
Who Has More Fun Than Italo?
As they say, the best surfer is the one having the most fun -- and throughout the 2021 season, that person has been Italo Ferreira. Creative, spontaneous, hilarious, he's hard not to love. He'll face fellow Brazilian World Champ Adriano de Souza in the Round of 16 when the contest is called back on.
Gracious In Victory And Defeat
Coming off her first Final at Margaret River, Stephanie Gilmore came into Rottnest with a ton of momentum. But in a surprise upset, fellow Aussie Nikki Van Dijk clipped her in the Round of 16 with a solid performance. Up next, Van Dijk will face another World Champ in Tyler Wright in the Quarterfinals.
Welcome To Stickland Bay
Making it's Championship Tour debut, Rottnest Island has provided a bounty of quality surf and breathtaking scenery. With two rounds of the event in the books, it's time to take a quick breath and wait for the next round of swells to arrive.
From Top Of The Podium To Early Exit
In the words of the country/western legend Jerry Reed, "When you're hot, you're hot. When you're not, you're not." Coming off of an event win at Margaret River and a runner-up finish at Narrabeen, Tatiana Weston-Webb has been one of the toughest competitors on Tour in Australia. But that all came crashing down during a slow Elimination Round heat in which she sat and waited for a wave that never materialized. There's nothing like winning a Championship Tour event. There's also nothing like getting knocked out early.
On A Wing And A Prayer
The end bowl on the right at Strickland Bay is especially shallow. In the Seeding Round, Julian Wilson got the full lay of the reef as he took to the air but thought twice once he realized what he was going to land on.
Good friends and multilinguists Leonardo Fioravanti and Kanoa Igarashi have traveled the world together for years. And while they take their surfing extremely serious, they keep things loose around the event site when it's not time to pull on the jersey. Who knows what kind of bomb Kanoa just dropped here, but he got Leo's attention with it.
Keeping Things Colorful
In a nod to her GOAT status, Stephanie Gilmore's been rocking a white wetsuit this season, but at Rottnest Island Isabella Nichols has taken the wetsuit game to a new level. And watch out, after a dominant showing in the Elimination Round, she's keen to keep her bid for Rookie Of The Year going.
Living That Rookie Life
After making their presence felt this year on the Championship Tour, both Matthew McGillivray and Morgan Cibilic have a lot to smile about. Soaking it all in at the pristine Strickland Bay, both rookies are into the Round of 16 and will be looking to continue their march up the WSL Leaderboard.
Brothers In Arms
It's been a hard slog on the CT this year for Mikey Wright, but with his brother Owen Wright joining him in the water, he picked up his first Seeding Round victory of the season and earned a spot into the upcoming Round of 32. Sister Tyler Wright also remains in the women's draw, meaning all three Wright siblings are still in the event ... and there's always the possibility they could sweep the podium.