Jack Robinson and Isabella Nichols Win Margaret River as Mid-Year Cut Tightens Up Tour
Posted by DAVID KELLY
Margaret River is never an easy wave to surf, let alone compete on—and this year was no exception.
After enjoying classic, perfectly groomed conditions at Bells, the tour headed west and was met by something very different. The first few days of the waiting period were windy and wonky, and any hope of running heats at The Box were dashed pretty quickly as it became clear that lip-line floaters and chop hops were going to be the flavor of the first few rounds. Then the second half of the window went ballistic, with cleaner (but still tricky) triple-overhead+ sets hammering Main Break. In other words, it wasn’t the easiest week to be a competitor in Western Australia.
But the tour had business to attend to, so the men and women quickly got to work. Margaret River was the fifth event in a 10-event schedule, so at the end of the contest the mid-year cut was going to come into effect, which meant a third of the field would be cut. People were literally surfing for their careers, and a number of big performances were put in by lesser-known names, particularly on the women’s side, where nearly all of the top seeds lost early to rookies in need of results. At the end of the day, it was Isabella Nichols who came out victorious. She needed to win the event in order to sneak above the cut line, and she did exactly that, storming her way to a career-best result, as well as a guaranteed berth during the second half of the season and on the 2023 tour. Tour vets Malia Manuel and Sally Fitzgibbons weren’t so lucky, falling off tour along with Hawaiian rookies BettyLou Sakura Johnson, Luna Silva, Molly Picklum, India Robinson, and Bronte Macaulay. Those seven women will need to put in big performances on the Challenger Series if they hope to requalify for 2023.
On the men’s side, the form surfers of the event were clearly John John Florence and Ethan Ewing, who both stormed up opposite sides of the draw toward what appeared to be a fated showdown in the final. Ewing was putting on absolute clinics of textbook rail surfing, picking up right where he left off at Bells, while John John reaffirmed himself as the best open-ocean power surfer in the world, absolutely dismantling the tricky walls of Main Break and making everyone else look pedestrian in the process. But the Florence/Ewing showdown wasn’t meant to be, as local boy Jack Robinson ended up narrowly beating Ewing in the semis. That set up the ultimate final for the fans—their local hero against pretty much everyone’s favorite surfer. In the end, Robinson narrowly beat John John, who had peaked in the semis and wasn’t quite able to match the local’s wave selection.
As the tour packed up and headed to Indonesia (G-Land is the next stop on tour), it did so without big names like Conner Coffin, Owen Wright, Frederico Morais, Leonardo Fioravanti, Morgan Cibilic, and Hawaiian Ezekiel Lau, as well as rookies Lucas Messinas, Joao Chianca, and Imaikalani deVault. Ryan Callinan and Deivid Silva also failed to make the cut, and will now be looking to results at Snapper Rocks and the other Challenger events for any hope of requalifying.
Meanwhile, the focus now turns to the top five spots on both the men’s and women’s tours, as only the top five rated surfers at the end of the year will have the opportunity to surf for the world title in the one-day championship event. The top five women after the halfway mark include Courtney Conlogue, Isabella Nichols, Tyler Wright, Carissa Moore, and Brisa Hennessy, with Tyler, Carissa, and Brisa well ahead of the rest of the field. Meanwhile, Lakey Peterson, Gabriela Bryan, Johanne Defay, and Steph Gilmore are all within striking distance, only around 1000 points behind fifth place.
Felipe Toledo still holds a narrow lead on the men’s field, with John John around a thousand points behind him and Jack Robinson another thousand behind that. The top five are currently rounded out by Ethan Ewing and Italo Ferreira, although everyone from Kanoa Igarashi in sixth through Kelly Slater in 13th could easily move into the top five with a decent result.
The Quiksilver Pro G-Land starts in around two weeks, and then it’s a pretty much nonstop series of events in El Salvador, Brazil, Jeffreys Bay, and Teahupoo before the championship event in September. It’s time to get down to business!