Can Two Inexperienced Aussies Weather the Impending Storm? - Stab Mag
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Can Two Inexperienced Aussies Weather the Impending Storm?

Morgan Cibilic and Liam O’Brien are Australia’s last defense against Medina and Ferreira.

news // May 22, 2021
Words by Tim Hawken
Reading Time: 7 minutes

The Brazilian goofyfooters put on a show on the fifth day of competition at Rottnest Island.

Led by surfing’s flying cyborg Gabriel Medina, Italo Ferreira, Yago Dora and Miggy Pupo all went absolutely mental from the first heater until the last. Two of the day’s best performances actually came in the round of 16, from the two guys who would eventually fall in the quarter finals later. Miggy Pupo pulled out a whole bag of tricks, weaving a deep pit, jamming hacks and boosting airs to take down the raging Spartan, Michel Bourez. Yago Dora top scored for the entire event, throwing up an 18.67 total with a combination of fin blows and airs that lit up the ocean.

It’s epic to watch Yago connecting the dots on tour now. He’s been working hard on his power game—to see it paired with the airs he’s known for means he’ll be a proper force in the coming years. Italo eventually beat Yago in the last heat of the day, but the reigning world champ was really put up against it. Italo had to surf every wave until its death, squeezing out every last point. Ronnie Blakey’s comment on Italo’s approach summed it up perfectly. “He’s like one of those kids that eats the apple and then gobbles down the core as well.” 

Italo Ferreira Strickland Bay
Spit out the seeds, Italo. Photo: WSL/Cait Miers

Gabriel looked like he barely broke a sweat on his stampede to the semis. It sounds funny, but Medina’s technique seems almost too perfect. Seeing the ridiculous places he puts his board during his alley oops and full rotations is starting to get monotonous. If anyone else on tour was doing what he is doing, we’d be losing our minds. Instead, he stomps a giant air and you’re like, huh, that was pretty cool. Take a look at the 8.33 he launched in his first heat of the day. Textbook, hands tight against his body, silky landing. Yago’s 9.57 in the same round was on a slightly bigger wave, but his board did almost the same thing.The difference was Yago’s drama, with his arms floating in the breeze like a dreamy seagull, and the will he/won’t he landing. Even Yago’s claim looked more compelling. That pushed his score more than a point higher. The difference between a high nine and low eight may as well be five points too, with how the judges are reserving the ultra top end for ultra top surfing. I don’t know what the answer is for Gabby. He’s still winning heats, so maybe it’s not a problem, but I feel like at times he’s being scored against himself, rather than against the other surfer in the water.

Gabriel Medina Strickland Bay
Is there such a thing as surfing too good for your own good? Photo: WSL/Cait Miers

The other Brazilian story today was Adriano De Souza. The 2015 World Champ and all-round legend surfed his last ever heat in Australia. He put on an incredible performance, showcasing the backhand form he’s best known for to allllllmost get ahead of Italo. It will be sad to see him go, but the Brazilian Storm’s spirit animal has well and truly put his stamp on this country. A win at Margarets in 2015, a win at Bells in 2013, multiple 2nds at Snapper and a QS Victory at Manly all live in the memories of our groms and adults alike. We salute you for your workman’s grit and gentleman’s attitude, Adriano. You will always be welcome on these shores.

On the opposite side of the men’s draw, miraculous things continued to happen for Australian surfing. Morgan Cibilic flexed his divine powers to surf a strategic heat beyond his years. Morgs got past Julian Wilson to become the first Aussie male to make a semi final this year. Right after, wildcard Liam O’Brian shredded past an in-form Miggy Pupo to make the semis in the first WT event he’s ever been in! The Burleigh Heads Beast channeled his inner Andy Irons on the left to throw some power whips and get the win.

Liam O'Brien Strickland Bay
Ummmm, did Liam O’Brien just sneak his way into the semis in his FIRST-EVER CT? Yes, yes he did. Photo: Cait Miers

The result means an Aussie man is destined for the final. It also means that emerging super coach Jay ‘Bottle’ Thompson is going to have one of his stable’s surfers in the final too. Bottle coaches both Liam and Morgan (and Matthew McGillivray, who crushed it for a semi final berth at Margaret River). There’s definitely going to be some friendly ribbing across the dinner table tonight. “Sorry Liam, Jay earned a nice little commission when I double beat Double John, so he’s not allowed to give you any advice for the semi. Pass the baked beans, mate.” 

The semi finals have been set on the women’s side too. Sally Fitz lit up the crowd with solid power surfing and a couple of surprise pits. She nearly made one that would have been a 10, and then squeaked through another to easily get past Malia. Next up, Tyler Wright just edged past Nikki Van Dijk in a tough fought battle. In the heat interview after, Tyler admitted that she’s looking forward to heading home after this event to recharge. She’s missing family and friends, but is doing her best to stay focussed and get the job done. It’s quite refreshing to see that open honesty in an interview, when often it’s just cliches like “I’m just happy to be here taking it one heat at a time”. Tyler has become a super impressive individual with how she carries herself in and out of the water. An incredible ambassador for surfing around the world. Her win sets up another all-Aussie semi, meaning the home webcast crowd will get to see a ‘local’ favourite in action right until the very end. 

Sally Fitzgibbons Strickland Bay
Sally Fitz always finds time for a tube. Onto the semis with her! Photo: WSL/Cait Miers

Carrisa Moore continued her utter domination and high scores for the women today. It looked like Isabella Nichols might actually push Riss, when the Aussie opened up with her highest single wave score for the year – a 7.83. Carrisa said “nope”. She destroyed two backhand blowtails on the next set to rack up a 9.5 and never looked back. Carissa is now pretty much guaranteed to be Top 5 at the end of season, with the rest of the field playing catch up to see who might challenge the queen at Trestles. The surfer who will do her best to put up a fight in the semis this time against Carissa will be Johanne Defay. Johanne surfed a scrappy affair against Japan’s Amuro Tsuzuki. It looked like she was trying to out-psych Amuro instead of out-surf her. The two were hustling all over each other for the inside spot and playing cat and mouse. Johanne even took a crappy right with priority on a set, just to make sure Amuro wouldn’t get it. It looked like the tactic might backfire as Amuro racked up some good scores, but then Johanne settled and finally linked up some solid waves under priority. She’s going to have to do better against Carissa if she has a hope of winning the event. If she finds the same form she had in round 3 when she top scored, though, Johanne is definitely in with a shot.

Johanne Defay Strickland Bay
Can anyone beat Carissa? Johanne Defay’s first on the chopping block when competition resumes. Photo: WSL/Cait Miers

Today’s event wasn’t even supposed to run, with the storm that finally arrived this afternoon forecast to spoil conditions early. Instead, it was definitely the best day of surf for the event. Two groms even rode over from the other side of the island to sneak into the line up after the competition and surf pumping Strickland Bay basically to themselves. We’ll see if the weather surprises again tomorrow for a run. However, if the apps have their algorithms right, Tuesday will be the likeliest shot at final’s day with Medina and Moore for the wins. 

Stay tuned and on your toes though, anything could happen.

Rip Curl Rottnest Search Women’s Quarterfinal Matchups: 
HEAT 1: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 15.10 DEF. Malia Manuel (HAW) 9.47
HEAT 2: Tyler Wright (AUS) 12.50 DEF. Nikki Van Dijk (AUS) 11.43
HEAT 3: Carissa Moore (HAW) 16.53 DEF. Isabella Nichols (AUS) 14.43
HEAT 4: Johanne Defay (FRA) 13.60 DEF. Amuro Tsuzuki (JPN) 9.80

Rip Curl Rottnest Search Women’s Semifinal Matchups: 
HEAT 1: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) vs. Tyler Wright (AUS)
HEAT 2: Carissa Moore (HAW) vs. Johanne Defay (FRA)

Rip Curl Rottnest Search Men’s Round of 16 Results: 
HEAT 1: Julian Wilson (AUS) 13.00 DEF. Jordy Smith (ZAF) 11.20
HEAT 2: Morgan Cibilic (AUS) 12.50 DEF. Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) 10.77
HEAT 3: Liam O’Brien (AUS) 10.83 DEF. Seth Moniz (HAW) 8.10
HEAT 4: Miguel Pupo (BRA) 14.77 DEF. Michel Bourez (FRA) 13.07
HEAT 5: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 14.50 DEF. Owen Wright (AUS) 11.00
HEAT 6: Conner Coffin (USA) 15.23 DEF. Mikey Wright (AUS) 13.50
HEAT 7: Italo Ferreira (BRA) 14.70 DEF. Adriano de Souza (BRA) 14.27  
HEAT 8: Yago Dora (BRA) 18.67 DEF. Connor O’Leary (AUS) 12.83

Rip Curl Rottnest Search Men’s Quarterfinal Matchups: 
HEAT 1: Morgan Cibilic (AUS) 15.70 DEF. Julian Wilson (AUS) 14.16
HEAT 2: Liam O’Brien (AUS) 13.23 DEF. Miguel Pupo (BRA) 12.83
HEAT 3: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 13.80 DEF. Conner Coffin (USA) 13.60
HEAT 4: Italo Ferreira (BRA) 13.94 DEF. Yago Dora (BRA) 11.97

Rip Curl Rottnest Search Men’s Semifinal Matchups:
HEAT 1: Morgan Cibilic (AUS) vs. Liam O’Brien (AUS)
HEAT 2: Gabriel Medina (BRA) vs. Italo Ferreira (BRA) 

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