Making the transition to the CT from the QS is one of the most nerve-wracking experiences a Rookie will face in their career. But throw in multiple duels with four-time World Champ Carissa Moore and the butterflies in the stomach grow even larger.
That's what happened to Sunshine Coast Rookie, Isabella Nichols who faced the Hawaiian in three of the four events of the Australian leg, which included her first CT Finals appearance at the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup presented by Corona.
"I take away that experience as probably one of the best learning curves I've ever had," reveals Nichols. "Just to surf against someone who is so amazing and so consistent."
Though she was defeated in all her clashes with Moore, she walked away from two months on the road head and shoulders above her Rookie class. And while many of her peers complained of fatigue after two months on the road, Nichols came home more fired up than ever.
"It was a pretty crazy two months, to be honest," she says. "The stresses and the highs and lows compared to the QS were tenfold, but everyone told me that. When I got home I was relieved but also super amped."
Nichols currently sits No. 8 in the world, well within a shot of a Final Five finish, and certainly favourite to seal Rookie of the Year honours with three more events to run on the regular 2021 Championship Tour season.
However, her mind is fixed on continuing her consistent run and guaranteeing she seals a spot on the CT next season through her results in her Rookie year.
"For the first year, I don't want to try and aim too high but the top five would be amazing. I would just really like to requalify through the CT, just getting results and not having to do the Challenger Series would be nice. But yeah, top five I wouldn't say no to that."
With the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro presented by Adobe in a little under a week, the 23-year-old young gun reveals she is equal parts excited and nervous going into the event. She's been trying to extract intel from fellow competitors not having experienced the mechanical man-made waves of Lemoore first hand.
"A lot of people keep their secrets close to their chest," she says. "This is my first time so I'm trying to prepare for a stressful week. I've heard everyone say this is the most stressful event on tour. I'm trying to save up all my adrenalin and not get too ahead of myself."
And while Surf Ranch won't provide the woman-on-woman setting she experienced during the Australian leg, Nichols now knows that no one is unbeatable, and that awareness is a weapon on the Championship Tour.
"I took a lot of inspiration from Morgan beating John John twice," says Nichols acknowledging the standout performances of fellow Australian Rookie Morgan Cibilic who shot to stardom during the Australian leg.
"That was pretty cool. It just goes to show that you can do it they're not invincible completely. Maybe if surfing against other girls if I just take that same mentality into it and it might get me through a few more heats."