Australia's Liam O'Brien enters the MEO Vissla Pro Ericeira ranked third on the Challenger Series rankings. Having secured a Quarterfinal finish at the US Open of Surfing Huntington Beach presented by Shiseido, and with another 5th place locked in from 2020, the Burleigh Heads' local looks on track for CT qualification. We caught up with the man they call "Lob" on his first day in Portugal to assess his performance at Huntington, and his thoughts on the rest of the Challenger Series:
WSL: Have you had time to reflect on the result in Huntington?
O'Brien: Looking back that week went smooth and there wasn't a whole lot of challenges to overcome. At Huntington, it's almost surfing fake. You can't get bogged down in the way you are surfing, but focus on what each wave allows you to do. Then you just have to ride out of every turn as if you nailed it. The key is being positive; you have to be an opportunist and squeeze every bit of juice out of every wave you catch.
That doesn't seem to be your natural style of surfing though?
I'm like everyone, I'd prefer to get fun waves and express myself, but that often isn't always an option or leads to success. You have to put your ego aside and grovel it out. As I said, the headspace of being an opportunist is key out there. It can be slow, and you can get stuck, so being energetic and being happy to go anything and try and make things happen worked well for me.
Have you started to look at the Challenger Series points, and think about what you might need to qualify for the CT?
I haven't analyzed it too much as I'm trying to stay in the moment and surf each heat and event on its merits. However, on my rough calculations I think around 12,000 points might be enough for a top 10 spot. I've my base now, points-wise, with a couple of Quarters counting, so I have to solidify that. But I was in this position in 2019 and I blew it in Hawaii. So this year I'm trying not to get ahead of myself by thinking about points and results.
You mentioned coming close in 2019, when you were just 20, how different are you now as a competitor?
I feel I'm better equipped to deal with whatever comes my way. I look back when I started the QS and I just had no idea what I was in for. And over the years you pick up tips and tricks and you work out a formula that works for you. I'm always learning, and that process will never stop, but at least I know now how I can help myself perform better. I think my result at the CT at Rottnest showed I'm moving in the right direction.
And what happens now in Portugal? Different continent, a different style of waves, how do you adjust?
The process doesn't change too much from event to event. So it's fairly monotonous in that regard. You surf the contest bank, look after your energy levels, feel out your equipment out and try and be as close to 100 percent for the start of the event.
There are so many great waves in Ericeira though, how hard is it to stick to the contest site?
Last time here I made the mistake of frothing too hard and surfing all the waves up and down the coast. And then I found out how hard it is to surf the event wave in the contest. It looks straightforward as a lineup, but it's deceptive, so I'm aiming to do as much time out there as I can.
And how good is it to be back traveling and competing in Europe, with it all on the line?
Because I was in the event to the last day at Huntington, my total focus was on that, and then we had to pack up on that last day and think about jumping on a plane. But then 24 hours later we were in the car traveling through Lisbon and we were pinching ourselves. I said to the boys, "Yesterday we were in California and then bang, we are in Europe." It's an awesome experience and one I never take for granted. I want to do as well as I can, competitively, and have fun too. It's on.