Who Is The Lone Australian Male In The Hunt On Final’s Day? - Stab Mag

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Eye of the tiger and quads of steel. Photo: WSL/Cait Miers

Who Is The Lone Australian Male In The Hunt On Final’s Day?

Luke Egan, Mitch Ross and Jackson Baker discuss Morgan Cibilic’s outstanding 2021 rookie season.

features // Sep 6, 2021
Words by Ethan Davis
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Morgan Cibilic comes into the WSL Finals day ranked fifth. If it were a normal contest format, he would be out of contention for winning a world title, but it’s not. It’s a Super Bowl format where the winner on the day is crowned the champ, irrespective of their current position on the rankings. 

Morgan will need to win five heats to become our 2021 World Champion. For him, finals day is an endurance marathon; for Gabby, in first, it’s a two-(or maybe three)-heat sprint. Regardless of who wins the title in the end, Morgan’s rookie campaign has been remarkable and worthy of praise and discussion. 

How has this kid, out of nowhere, placed in the top 5 in his first year of CT competition? 

Just to remind you, Morgs has made quarter-finals or better in three out of seven events, beaten John Florence in every head-to-head matchup with an average heat score of 16.41, and is seven places clear of the nearest Aussie — all as a rookie. Incredible. His early performances in the Australian leg surprised everybody, but what was more surprising is that he sustained that level for the two events after it.

Morgz is unphased by big names and big stakes. He simply puts his head down and does the work — a formula that has seen him achieve year-long success on the biggest stage in surfing.

Below we speak to three Merewether locals — WSL commentator, 4-time CT winner, and coach, Luke Egan; Carissa Moore’s current CT coach, former Hurley team manager, and co-founder of Life Without Andy, Mitch Ross; and Morgan’s childhood friend, competitive sparring partner, and the biggest powerhouse from Newy since Matt Hoy, Jackson Baker — about Morgz’s rise from obscurity as a junior, to World Title contender in his rookie year.

Luke Egan

“Morgan has bettered every part of his surfing this season. He made bigger gains than anyone on tour in 2020. His fitness, the risk in his surfing, the completion, his boards, they all improved by a mile. When he qualified at Sunset, I had the feeling that he was going to ruffle some feathers because he demonstrated he can perform in heated, clutch situations and get the result. He went and did exactly that multiple times this year.”

“The other thing that impresses me about Morgan is that he doesn’t get worried about things going wrong for him. He just works on it and gets stuck into it. He made his best surfing consistent day after day. What he’s learned with the heats he’s won this season you cannot take away from him. I think he’s established himself as a top-10 surfer for years to come, if not, top-5. Based on the good decisions he’s made this year, and the lessons he would’ve extracted, I think he’s going to be a threat for a long time to come.”

“He loves a joke and having a good time, but when it’s time to compete, there’s an underlying weapon in Morgan. He’s not scared of anybody and he’s not scared of any situation. I remember him running down at Merewether with his heat against John when I was on the broadcast. I gave him a ‘good luck, go on’ sorta thing and he just gave me this stare with a little nod. He was laser-focused, and I thought, ‘Oh, I like that’. And then he went out and beat John.”

Photo by WSL/Matt Dunbar

Jackson Baker 

“I think Morgz came here (Newcastle) when he was 12 or 13. He was the smallest, stumpiest little nugget of a kid, and I just remember thinking. ‘Fucken hell he rips.’ I didn’t even surf a contest with him until he was on the Quey because the ages with the Juniors at that point were still weird. Then he came on and smoked us all. I was like, ‘You bastard! I’ve been grinding here for four years and you come here and say see ya later.’” 

“The year he qualified he had such an, ‘I don’t give a fuck attitude’. He would just go for broke. He never went safe, and he never surfed for a score requirement. In Pantin, he was in a psycho heat with Alex Riberio and needed a 7.5 on this left. He could’ve just squared it up and done a little windshield wiper. Fucker threw fins. Got an 8.85 or something. That’s Morgz. He just goes so hard at every section, and he’s not worried about falling. It’s inspiring.”

“I think he and Botz have worked out a pretty great relationship which has been huge. Botz has been able to tame him a bit because he loves having a beer with the boys. But he’s just got him to a point now where he realizes he can do that after he succeeds, but before that, you’ve gotta put in the work sort-of-thing. I know he’s been working super hard this season. I hope he takes everyone’s heads off and wins the bloody thing. I will be losing it, if Morgan wins the world title, it will be equal to when Newcastle won the 1997’ Grand Final. It’ll be crazy. I mean the whole town is going to be partying if he comes fifth, fourth, third, or second. But sheesh if he gets a first.”

Photo by WSL/Tony Heff

Mitch Ross

“In 2019 Morgan was doing the Q’s and getting results here and there, but I think his parents wanted him to come home to Yamba and find work as opposed to kicking about in Newy. It was mid-way through the year and I think that was when he decided to really start bettering his surfing. He became a little contest machine, and then he just went crazy at Sunset. When he qualified it was felt like he had just fallen out of the sky.”

“Morgan walks around looking so carefree. He’s brought his girlfriend over here, he’s teaching her how to surf at Oceanside. There are so many surfers who would battle with that decision, you know like “is she going to get in my way… etc.” For Morgz, it wasn’t even a question. Part of his success feels like it’s come from not being around the tour for too long. It’s helping him. He’s doing it his way and he believes in what he’s doing.” 

“He’s working hard there’s no doubt about it. But he’s not wearing the headphones, stretching, and doing yoga before a heat. He does his own thing. And he cares deeply, after Mex when he lost he said to me, “I’m going to the Gold Coast. I’m doing tow-ins. I have to get better at airs.” I thought ‘that’s unreal’, he wants to improve on his weaknesses and he’s proactive about sharpening his game.”

Photo by WSL/Cait Miers

What are the books saying?

Topsport currently has Morgs paying 19.00 for the W. Given he would have to beat Conner, Italo, Filipe and then win the best of three heats against a fresh Gabby, the odds are stacked against him.

The other interesting element about this contest format is that there is a lot more pressure on the top guys to perform. Morgz has nothing to lose. He can go out and bog and still win rookie of the year and pat himself on the back. If Gabby loses he’s bungled one of the most impressive years in professional surfing history.

How does this psych thriller play out? Relaxed Morgz and a cagey Gabby? How about Conner, Italo, and Filipe in the middle of things?

Only time will tell.

Just don’t count Morgs out. He’s no stranger to an upset.


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