The last weekend of the winter brought with it some proud moments for several local surfing mums and dads, none more so than my friends and film-making colleagues Shaun and Carol Cairns, of Panga Productions.
In mostly good conditions on the Gold Coast, Roxy Girl Coco Cairns sealed the deal at the Woolworths Queensland Junior Titles, adding the Goldie event to her previous win on the Sunshine Coast to take the overall under 18 girls title for 2021. Noosa teammate Lilliana Bowrey jagged a third to finish overall second behind Coco, so both our shining Noosa stars are off to the Nationals.
Coco didn’t have it all her own way in a hard-fought final in deteriorating conditions, but the stylish natural-footer picked the best waves on offer and remembered what coach Dean Brady had taught her. The Stu and Ryan Campbell-designed stick under her feet didn’t hurt either, so it was a win for the locals, top to bottom.
Having watched Coco and her younger brother Kaimana develop into such talented surfers (not to mention nice young people) over the years, this crusty old columnist felt a surge of pride too. But in handing out the accolades, let’s not forget mum and dad who’ve clocked up thousands of kilometres along the SEQ coast and beyond to get Coco to her heats on time, nor all that anguish and nail-biting on the sand. Dad Shaun was so excited he posted a “dad brag disclaimer” on his Insta account!
Noosa also had a podium finish in the boys under 18s, with Ben Lorentson, son of Councillor Amelia, taking third behind Buddina’s Zeb Stokes and the Goldie’s Ty Richardson. When I chatted with Amelia a couple of days later she was still buzzing with excitement.
Nothing to lose for Morgan
The World Surf League’s one-day Rip Curl finals series enters its waiting period today at Lower Trestles, near San Clemente, California, with three Australians in contention.
With seven world titles already behind her, you’d have to say Steph Gilmore was a real chance on a wave that is perfectly suited to her smooth, flowing style. On the other hand, Sally Fitzgibbons has been surfing brilliantly this season, and is desperately hungry to take her maiden world title. But both the Oz girls have to factor in the top seed and machine-like Hawaiian Carissa Moore.
In the men’s division, Newcastle’s Morgan Cibilic scraped into the finals at number five, meaning that he has the hardest road to the title, but this giant-killer has already proven this year that he is not to be under-estimated.
As Jake Howard wrote on the WSL website: “No one shocked the surfing world more this season than Australian rookie Morgan Cibilic. After a dream Australian leg that saw him unleash his power surfing, upset title contenders, and make deep runs into three of the four events, Cibilic shot up the rankings to secure not just the men’s Rookie of the Year honour, but also a well-earned spot in the WSL Final 5. Will Morgan become the first rookie men’s World Champion?
“Rookies aren’t supposed to soar as high as Morgan Cibilic has on Championship Tour in 2021. And while the surf punditry waited for him to fly too close to the sun, event after event he just kept shining brighter. Cibilic came into the 2021 CT season a relative unknown outside of Australia … The question loomed large, could Cibilic succeed at this level? After all, his one and only Qualifying Series victory came at the 2018 Mandurah Pro, a small QS 1000 in Western Australia. There was no obvious indication that he’d be a world-beater when he jumped on tour.”
Having qualified for the world tour in 2019, Morgan had to wait a year for his debut, thanks to Covid-19, but when it finally came at the Billabong Pipe Masters, as Jake noted, “There was still nothing to indicate that he’d be in the World Title conversation at year’s end”.
Even when Covid cancellations resulted in an unusual four-event Australian tour in NSW and WA, and Morgan beat world number one John John Florence at his home break of Merewether (although his formative years were spent at Angourie) to finish third in the Rip Curl Cup, the rumble on the beach was that, while the kid had talent, this was a bit of a fluke. Cibilic just let his surfing do the talking, with a follow-up fifth place at Narrabeen, where he beat John John again in the quarters.
I was at Narrabeen for that heat, the first time I’d seen Cibilic surf, and it was an eye-opener. With an equal mix of power and flow, and a bit of showmanship thrown in, he reminded me of Simon Anderson and Terry Fitzgerald racing down those long Narra lefts so long ago.
In WA, Morgan bombed out early at Margaret River, but then came back big time to finish runner-up to Gabriel Medina at the Rip Curl Search on Rottnest Island. Since then he finished ninth at both the Surf Ranch and in Mexico, and when the Tahiti event was cancelled, he had enough points on the board to make the finals.
In the lead-up to the finals series, Morgan has been based at Trestles, training with his buddy Griffin Colapinto, but his first sudden death heat will be against Rip Curl team-mate and Californian Conner Coffin. From there it only gets tougher, with the winner facing Filipe Toledo.
So yeah, Cibilic is a roughie, but if I can get long odds, I’ll be backing him.