No other surfer has had the same meteoric rise as Morgan Cibilic on the Championship Tour this season. The Australian punctuated the Australian leg with a Final in his Rookie year at the Rip Curl Rottnest Search presented by Corona event last week.
And despite being bested by Rip Curl stablemate, current World No. 1 and two-time World Champ Gabriel Medina, Cibilic has firmly established himself as the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year honors following his performances thus far this season.
After a 17th-place finish at the Billabong Pipe Masters, the 21-year-old ran riot during the Australian leg. With results that no one saw coming that included, a 3rd place finishes in Newcastle, a 5th at Narrabeen, a 17th at Margaret River, and a 2nd place finish at Rottnest he is knocking on the door for his first CT win.
Along the way, he scalped some of the biggest names on the CT. Cibilic can boast he has a 2-0 record against two-time World Champion John John Florence and fellow Australian Julian Wilson. Not bad for your first year on the CT.
So, how does the rising star compare to other Rookies who jumped on the CT in years past? There are a few names that ran just as hot as Cibilic in their Rookie year.
Bobby Martinez immediately caught fire when he joined the Championship Tour in 2006. The stylish goofy-footer from Santa Barbara finished the year No. 5 in the world with wins in Tahiti and Mundaka which cemented him as the obvious choice for Rookie of the Year. The victories saw Martinez propelled up the rankings to No. 2 in the world, and within striking distance for the World Title against the established big names. He finished the season ranked No. 5.
Julian Wilson was keen to impress when he jumped on the CT in 2011. His path from starring in Quiksilver Young Guns films to his biopic Scratching the Surface foreshadowed his upward trajectory on the CT. When he jumped on Tour he was immediately pitted against his arch-rival Gabriel Medina who eliminated him at the Quiksilver Pro France.
The runner-up finish and a string of 3rd and 5th place results saw him finish the season ranked No. 9 in the world and winning Rookie of the Year. A perennial world title threat, Wilson has been in the conversation now for the past decade.
He defeated eleven-time World Champion Kelly Slater as a 17-year-old at the Quiksilver Pro France and beat Julian Wilson in the Final in his first year on Tour. Gabriel Medina certainly made his presence felt when he jumped on the CT halfway through the 2011 season, when the format was slightly different (with a mid-year cut-off). He won the San Francisco Search event, beating Joel Parkinson, and finished the season with a 5th place at the Billabong Pipe Masters.
Although he was officially considered a Rookie in 2012 when the Tour abandoned the halfway cut-off system, you could argue that no other surfer has been as dominant as Medina in their first hit out competing at CT-level.
In 2012 he was Mr. Consistent, runner up on two occasions, at the Volcom Fiji Pro and Rip Curl Pro Portugal while amassing a string of Semifinal and Quarterfinal appearances on his way to finishing the year ranked No. 7 in the world.
John John Florence
2012 marked John's first full year on the ASP tour, and he didn't disappoint -- placing 4th for the World Title, taking his first CT win at the Billabong Rio Pro, and winning Rookie of the Year. Florence was in the same Rookie class that included Kolohe Andino and, Gabriel Medina, and the trio has formed a nucleus of the new guard that has set the pace since. The battle for Rookie of the Year honours came down between Medina and Florence with the Hawaiian getting the nod thanks to his victory in Rio.
With four more CT events on the schedule, until the Top Five rankings are established for the Rip Curl WSL Finals at Lower Trestles, Cibilic is already way out in front ahead of his Rookie peers. Sitting on the bubble at No. 5 in the world ahead of Surf Ranch next month with a good result there's every possibility he will be gunning for a World Title in California come September. Should that happen there's little doubt he will join the ranks of successful CT debutants before him and be crowned the 2021 Rookie of the Year.