Morgan Cibilic Just Surprised Everyone - Stab Mag
Nothing left to do but smile (and win more heats). Morgan, the giant killer. Photo: Matt Dunbar/WSL

Morgan Cibilic Just Surprised Everyone

Including, but not limited to, John John Florence. Notes from Day 3 in Newcastle.

Words by Chris Binns

When Championship Tour rookie Morgan “$5.50 at SportsBet” Cibilic ran into two-time world champion and current world number one John “John” Florence in the Round of 32 at the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup, even the most loyal members of his entourage would have struggled to believe their boy had a chance.

If the odds weren’t steep enough, Morgs broke his toe a couple of days earlier and was limping as he made his way into the competitor’s area this morning alongside coach Jay “Bottle” Thompson.

“Nothing to lose hey!” laughed Botts, to nobody in particular. If anybody beyond me had heard, they perhaps would have remembered Morgs qualifying in Hawaii a couple of years ago in a knee brace as big as the waves at Sunset, and hoped there was still plenty of fight to come.

With no expectations on his shoulders whatsoever, and in front of a couple of hundred Merewether Surfboard Club stalwarts perched under a row of beachside tents (admittedly all wearing blue “Go R-Cal!” tee shirts), Morgs took to the water in the fifth heat of the day and, running on painkillers and pure adrenaline, promptly put the best surfer on the planet to the sword. As always, the crucial first exchange of the heat was shown as a replay on the webcast, but when it finally saw the light of day viewers would have been stunned to see what the beach already knew: Morgan won the opening exchange 8-something to 7-something, for pushing his turns a touch harder than the man in the daiquiri-looking leaders jersey.

Looking sharp to our eyes. Photo: Cait Miers/WSL

A quick and easy 5 to Morgs soon after did two things. It gave the rook confidence that he could bank borderline keepers on well picked waves, and it put pressure on John in a situation where he should never, ever feel it. Maybe he is human after all?

John matched Morgs’ 5 but the local had priority and sat waiting to use it while the Hawaiian hunted any lump that lurched, in a scenario that was repeated in every heat. Eventually Morgs cashed in to drop a 7. When John fell on an air an instant later to hand priority straight back, the beach dared to dream. Again Morgan dropped anchor, again John scavenged, and with every swing and miss the momentum moved more to the Merewether lad. With minutes remaining, Morgan took his opportunity and lit up a Rocks runner that stood up and begged to be belted. The beach roared their approval in the day’s chicken skin moment and nine points later the deal was done, with John paddling over to concede with a generous early handshake.

Free the daiquiri. John John Florence looked good, but will likely leave the yellow jersey behind. Photo: Matt Dunbar/WSL

“I think the great thing about competing is you learn so quickly,” said John, soon after.

“I feel like I just won the event!” said Morgs.

Fun fact: This heat was brought to you by Stab In The Dark, with John riding a Dark Arts and Morgan riding a SharpEye. Go team!

Apart from the headline act the rest of the day wasn’t bad either. The waves were pretty average and the surfing reflected it, but competition was ferocious. Every heat started in a crawl, surfers torn between sitting on the rock section (Rocks) or on the middle bank (Middles) as the tide slid around to mix things up, and awkward moments were aplenty as competitors eyed each other off from 200m apart. Slowly ones and twos became fives and sixes, leads swapped back and forth, one surfer would move over to the other to either defend a lead or chase one, and then a final frenzy of activity would leave the judges scrambling for scores while the beach decompressed, caught their breath, and tried to figure out what exactly just happened.

Gabriel Medina beat Connor O’Leary in a canter to start the round, before Frederico Morais, in conditions resembling Portugal’s Ribeira d’Illhas, took out Adrian Buchan in the next heat. Adriano de Souza got the better of Jeremy Flores in a heat that neither legend will remember in a week’s time. Julian Wilson and Jack Robinson met for the third time in two events, curious given this is only Jack’s second CT since qualifying for the tour. Julian won, but it wasn’t without its drama, an obvious interference costing Jack his second score, on a wave that would have given him the lead. It took a while for the interference to be read out, and you could see pre-emptive steam coming out of Julian’s ears before he was mercifully put out of his misery after the siren, and Jack was put out of the event.

Seth Moniz led Wade Carmichael for 29 mins before the Central Coaster made his Rusty Keg go boom on the wave of the heat to snatch a victory for larger, hairier surfers the world over. Hometown hero Ryan Callinan won a see-saw bout with Crosby Colapinto that showed Croz ain’t too far behind older brother Griff, and even though the heat won’t be replayed often, you won’t find a Novocastrian on the beach complaining about the result.

The aforementioned Jordy Smith, winning, unsurprisingly. Photo: Matt Dunbar/WSL

Other victories that played to the formula included Owen Wright over Miguel Pupo, Griffin Colapinto beating Michel Bourez, Kanoa Igarashi knocking Ethan Ewing, Deivid Silva accounting for Caio Ibelli, Jordy Smith besting Alex Ribeiro, and Conner Coffin beating Peterson Crisanto.

Italo Ferreira did endless Italo things—refusing to sit still, catching anything that moves, surfing a million miles an hour—to build a decisive lead over local wildcard Jackson Baker, before making his first competitive move since competition began eight days ago. Lead established, Italo left his beloved shorebreak to paddle up the point, sit on Baker at Rocks and squeeze the last drops of life outta the hapless hometown hero. Scoreboard says otherwise, but this one was never in doubt.

The last two heats of the day promised to be crackers, and predictions proved half right. Jack Freestone and Yago Dora sat becalmed for the majority of their battle, Jack eventually earned a decent kind of lead, then Yago clicked into Ciclo mode and launched the best single manoeuvre of the day—a wild, corked, tail high backhand rev—to take the W. This one promised a lot, the waves failed to turn up, and Jack will feel more flat than fuming after the loss.

The best small wave rail surfer is also fond of the area north of the face. Photo by Cait Miers/WSL

Our day closed with Filipe Toledo showing that no matter how many dad bod jibes you throw his way there’s no better small wave rail surfer in the world. Leo Fioravanti, coming in hot after high scoring the previous round, had no answer for Phil’s brand of vicious arcs. His searing bladework left the beach buzzing at the end of a draining day that had alternated between drizzling rain and sizzling sunshine, and it was clearly the statement heat of the 16 we saw today. It also might explain how, after Toledo came to prominence riding boards most of the world had never heard of, a few short years later SharpEyes are under the feet of seemingly every second surfer on tour these days. Italo excited and Gabby was never troubled, but of the World Title big dogs it was Filipe who fired the biggest shots as the sun slunk away.

There are 22 heats left, which means 11 hours of surfing. The Rip Curl Newcastle Cup is going to take two short days to run, most likely the next ones. See you in the morning.

Rip Curl Newcastle Cup pres. by Corona Men’s Round of 32 Results:
HEAT 1: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 12.16 DEF. Connor O’Leary (AUS) 9.60
HEAT 2: Frederico Morais (PRT) 12.10 DEF. Adrian Buchan (AUS) 11.20
HEAT 3: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 10.93 DEF. Jeremy Flores (FRA) 7.40
HEAT 4: Julian Wilson (AUS) 11.67 DEF. Jack Robinson (AUS) 4.00
HEAT 5: Morgan Cibilic (AUS) 17.13 DEF. John John Florence (HAW) 13.16
HEAT 6: Wade Carmichael (AUS) 12.17 DEF. Seth Moniz (HAW) 11.67
HEAT 7: Ryan Callinan (AUS) 11.40 DEF. Crosby Colapinto (USA) 11.06
HEAT 8: Owen Wright (AUS) 9.60 DEF. Miguel Pupo (BRA) 9.00
HEAT 9: Italo Ferreira (BRA) 12.80 DEF. Jackson Baker (AUS) 11.20
HEAT 10: Griffin Colapinto (USA) 11.43 DEF. Michel Bourez (FRA) 10.50
HEAT 11: Kanoa Igarashi (JPN) 10.83 DEF. Ethan Ewing (AUS) 8.50
HEAT 12: Deivid Silva (BRA) 10.50 DEF. Caio Ibelli (BRA) 8.74
HEAT 13: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 11.50 DEF. Alex Ribeiro (BRA) 10.40
HEAT 14: Conner Coffin (USA) 11.84 DEF. Peterson Crisanto (BRA) 11.37
HEAT 15: Yago Dora (BRA) 12.84 DEF. Jack Freestone (AUS) 10.83
HEAT 16: Filipe Toledo (BRA) 16.23 DEF. Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) 12.56

Rip Curl Newcastle Cup pres. by Corona Men’s Round of 16 Matchups:
HEAT 1: Gabriel Medina (BRA) vs. Frederico Morais (PRT)
HEAT 2: Adriano de Souza (BRA) vs. Julian Wilson (AUS)
HEAT 3: Morgan Cibilic (AUS) vs. Wade Carmichael (AUS)
HEAT 4: Ryan Callinan (AUS) vs. Owen Wright (AUS)
HEAT 5: Italo Ferreira (BRA) vs. Griffin Colapinto (USA)
HEAT 6: Kanoa Igarashi (JPN) vs. Deivid Silva (BRA)
HEAT 7: Jordy Smith (ZAF) vs. Conner Coffin (USA)
HEAT 8: Yago Dora (BRA) vs. Filipe Toledo (BRA)

Rip Curl Newcastle Cup pres. by Corona Women’s Quarterfinals Matchups:
HEAT 1: Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) vs. Isabella Nichols (AUS)
HEAT 2: Keely Andrew (AUS) vs. Courtney Conlogue (USA)
HEAT 3: Carissa Moore (HAW) vs. Johanne Defay (FRA)
HEAT 4: Bronte Macaulay (AUS) vs. Caroline Marks (USA)

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