It seems like ages ago that this year's Championship Tour rookies turned their dreams into realities. Going way back to pre-pandemic 2019, this year's class of 2021 had to put their career goals on ice for well over a year while the world sorted out the coronavirus situation. And now, with the CT season more than halfway over, this next-gen group has been shattering the spirits of the CT establishment and proving that their appearance on the world's stage has been long overdue. Here's the breakdown:
Sitting as the World No. 5 with a good chance of making the Rip Curl WSL Finals at Trestles, Morgan Cibilic has been the outstanding rookie of 2021. With his 3rd place finish in Newcastle, a 5th at Narrabeen, and a runner-up at Rottnest, his blistering start has been compared to some of the best rookie starts of all time.
One of those comparisons was with Gabriel Medina. It's ironic then that it is the Brazilian who has been the one to stop Cibilic from scaling even further heights. The two-time World Champion has defeated the plucky Newcastle in four of the five events so far. Yet even that is a good sign showing that Morgs has kept progressing deep enough to keep facing the world's best.
This type of form may be hard to sustain, but that's beside the point. Cibilic has defeated the world's best with a powerful, aggressive style, and an ever-present smile on his dial. As a rookie, you can't ask for more than that.
The stylish natural-footer has taken to the CT with just the right mix of competitive fire and relaxed nature. Her highlight was in Newcastle, where she dispatched Tatiana Weston-Webb and seven-time World Champ Stephanie Gilmore on the way to her first Finals appearance.
Nichols was defeated by Carissa Moore at Merewether, however, and the four-time World Champ would prove her nemesis, taking her out in both the Western Australian events.
"Thanks to Carissa Moore raising the bar for everyone and dishing me a string of learning opportunities," Nichols posted after Rottnest, providing further evidence that this is a surfer with the right mix of talent and temperament.
Currently sitting as the World No. 8, she's holding onto a solid, though outside, chance of making the Rip Curl WSL Finals.
The South African qualified for the CT back in 2019 on the back of incredible surfing at Haleiwa and big Sunset, so it's no surprise that his best results have come in more powerful waves. A 9th at Pipeline and then a career-best Semifinal at Margaret River has seen the natural footer rise to World No. 17, an above par start for any rookie
His performance at Margaret River, where he took out Conner Coffin, Kanoa Igarashi, and Seth Moniz, was even more impressive given he suffered back-to-back Round 2 losses at the previous events at Narrabeen and Newcastle. To turn his Australian leg, and perhaps year, around showed he had the mental strength to back his undoubted talent.
Tsuzuki made history when she became the first female Japanese surfer in 20 years to win a CT heat. That win came at solid Margaret River, where the 5'3" World Junior Champion took to the heaving Main Break conditions with a fearless, radical approach.
Having been granted an injury Wildcard at Narrabeen, Tsuzuki showed she had the requisite talent for the CT. Two respectable 9th place finishes at Narrabeen and Margaret River were backed by a Quarterfinal finish at Rottnest, where she took out Courtney Conlogue. Whether she competes in more events will be determined by injuries, but in Australia she proved that given the opportunity, she has the potential to cause some big upsets.
The 23-year-old Australian was the rookie coming into 2021 with the most hype. His CT qualification came on the back of teenage stardom, and many surf fans were excited at the prospect of what his X-factor surfing could do on the world stage.
Invariably those expectations were unrealistic. Robinson, if anything, has been steady and consistent, rather than meteoric. He's shown flashes of brilliance and, as evidenced with a heat against Julian Wilson in Newcastle, real moments of competitive fire. However, he has yet to progress to the Quarterfinals in any of his first five CT events, leaving him as a respectable, but not earth scorching World No. 23.
He'll look to the two events at home in Western Australia as a sub-par return, but has the confidence and ability to back him herself 100 percent. The rookie year is the steepest learning curve in surfing, and given his talent, you'd expect a breakthrough performance to come sooner rather than later. Tahiti would be an ideal venue for the tube hound to stage such a performance.