Reef Heazlewood has been in the US for the past month, picking up a new quiver of boards from his sponsor Channel Islands in Santa Barbara, surfing Lowers, and familiarizing himself with the mushy peaks of Huntington Beach ahead of the US Open -- the first event of the WSL Challenger Series.
"I'm feeling pretty excited watching everyone getting ready and everyone's ripping so it's going to be an awesome experience," says Heazlewood, who turned heads earlier this year after gaining injury replacement spots at Narrabeen and Margaret River during the Australian leg of the CT.
At Narrabeen, he took out good friend Ryan Callinan before being stopped by Griffin Colapinto in the Round of 16, walking away with a respectable 9th place finish. He took home a 33rd at Margaret River admitting he needs to work on his big-wave credentials to complement his signature punts that put him on the map.
"I've been working on my backhand airs as they weren't quite on the same level as my frontside -- like I rarely did them at all," he says. "And then yeah, probably that Margaret's kind of deeper, heavier water backside and stuff. So, I've been working on that with a couple of guys."
After coming back from a shoulder injury in 2020, the CT experience provided a boost of confidence. It also helped him secure vital points to qualify for the Regional Qualifying Series, enabling him to make the cut for the four-event Challenger Series which starts with the US Open of Surfing Huntington Beach presented by Shiseido.
"I don't see myself as a Challenger Series surfer -- I'm hoping to go further so it's exciting to be here and have the chance to be able to do that," he says.
"At the start of the year coming back from injury, my goal was to qualify for the Challenger Series and then from where I am now to use these events to hopefully qualify for that. And yeah, it doesn't stop there. I can hopefully get onto the Tour and take some scalps there. So yeah, I've got some goals to continue to climb really."
Watching fellow Aussie Morgan Cibilic blow up in his Rookie year has also lit a fire under Heazlewood. He grew up surfing and competing with Cibilic and was in awe of his barnstorming Rookie Year that culminated in a Top 5 spot in the WSL Finals at Trestles.
"Watching Morgan this whole year was just amazing. It was just amazing to see him get on there and just absolutely tear it. So yeah, that's obviously the goal -- the hope is that if I do qualify to be able to do that."
Cibilic's breakout season has set the blueprint for how to take on the CT and Heazlewood knows he can't hold back if he secures a spot on the main stage. Plus, there's the added incentive of being part of a new generation of Australian surfers who have taken the reigns from recent retirees Julian Wilson, Mikey Wright, and Jack Freestone.
"I feel like we've got a really good crew of Aussie guys and women coming on. I'm really excited to see all the Aussie crew blowing up -- I feel like we'll have a couple of really good guys qualifying this year so it's exciting."