Hot off a fifth-place finish at the US Open Callum Robson is in an enviable position. He's jumped 62 spots to No. 12 on Challenger Series and laid a foundation towards his bid in qualifying for the 2022 Championship Tour.
Robson won his Round of 96 heat at the MEO Vissla Pro Ericeira, and will surf next in the Round of 48 when the event, currently running, resumes.
"It felt good that the preparation and my approach to the event worked out," says Robson talking to the WSL from Portugal. "Nothing really changed for me -- it was just a bigger arena -- a bigger event which was good that the formula still works for the big events."
"I have thought a lot of trust in my own decision making and what I can do, and then I basically just trust my decisions and let off, let it let whatever happens, happens sort of thing."
The 20-year-old from Evans Head in Northern NSW, Australia has flown under the radar. Although he had a stellar junior career as runner up on the Australasian/Oceania WSL JQS Championship in 2018 he's not a household name and has had to rely on a GoFundMe campaign set up by his local boardriders club to chase his dream.
But watch him surf and you'll realise Robson has the potent combination a modern surfer needs to put a dent on an elite contest scene. He can hit the lip like a sledgehammer and fly beyond it like a jet -- think of it as Aussie grunt crossed with radical progression.
Robson saw 2020 as his first opportunity to qualifying for the CT. However, after a couple of QS events at home, competition was postponed due to COVID. He'd parked his aspirations and turned his attention to the Regional Qualifying Series as a final hurdle to clinch his spot on the Challenger Series.
He scored a fifth-place finish at the Vissla Central Coast Pro then at the final event of the regional series won the Oakberry Tweed Coast Pro in an absolute dog fight of a Final against Mitch Parkinson.
"That event was pretty crazy because there were so many points up for grabs in that one event," reflects Robson. "Once I got past that qualification hurdle I just shifted my focus to seeing how far I could go in the event."
On the surface, Robson doesn't come across as an analytical QS competitor. But looks can be deceiving and his workmanlike approach and self-reflection of his performances displays a maturity usually found from more seasoned competitors.
"That's basically kind of how I approach everything -- just how far can I go with what I can do and then if I don't make heats then I obviously needed to learn something and just take the lessons, move on and just keep trying to improve."
With only three events left on the schedule and a potential 12,000 points required to qualify for the CT the stakes are high at every event. The shorter Challenger Series circuit and intensity gets Robson excited plus the opportunity to beat CT guys in the draw is also added incentive.
"At the end of the day, if you want to make it on the CT, you're gonna have to deal with heaps of pressure so I love like the opportunity to feel that sort of similar pressure and to be up against big names," he says.
"I've always wanted to be at the top -- not that it's the CT yet but it's the top of the QS and you get stacked heats from the start and it's awesome to be able to come up against CT guys which my goal is just trying to beat as many CT guys as I can."
If Robson is successful in his campaign, you can guarantee his local Boardriders Club -- Halftide Boardriders Evans Head will throw one helluva party. The club launched a GoFundMe campaign before the Australian hit the road to help cover the cost of ballooning airfares and expenses on the road.
"The support I got from the local community is insane I was so overwhelmed by it all."
The top 12 ranked men from the 2021 Challenger Series will qualify for the 2022 Championship Tour. While he may be on the bubble of qualifying for now Robson knows he's still got a way to go.
"It'd be massive ... it'd be so sick and for sure I'd be stoked but I've got to make a lot of heats before that happens so I'll cross that bridge when it comes."