Brazil’s Gabriel Medina may have won the World Surf League’s inaugural men’s Final 5 Showdown in California last month but Merewether boardrider Morgan Cibilic’s fifth place in the event is equally momentous.

 Morgan Cibilic in preparation for the Championship Tour Final 5 at Lower Trestles, California, September 2021. Photo supplied: World Surf League / Diz

In his opening Championship Tour season, Cibilic has rocketed from the least-known surfer on tour to Australia’s number one seed. And his rank had grown by more than 400 during a three-year stint competing in Qualifying Series events.

In the eyes of Merewether Surfboard Club President Craig Long, Cibilic has been on the incline since his arrival to Newcastle from Angourie at 11 years of age.

“For me, it is Morgan’s natural style built on over time, thrown in with his professional approach from a training, coaching and equipment perspective, that has taken him to that next level,” Long said.

“He’s quite comfortable taking the underdog approach and doing things his way with a powerful style groomed on two very famous right-hand breaks (Angourie and Merewether).

“And his approach to surfing in heats this year has certainly been extremely mature for his first year.

“Now, he’ll be setting himself goals for next year and will focus on continuing to improve on his efforts.”

The fifth place was sealed for Cibilic after his loss in the opening men’s heat against American fourth-placed finalist Conner Coffin.

Nonetheless, finishing fifth in the Championship Tour is Cibilic’s greatest career achievement to date, and represents the highest final seeding in a rookie season since Hawaii’s John John Florence in 2012.

After five days at Lower Trestles, California, awaiting a south-westerly swell fetched from our side of the Pacific, early Tuesday morning brought six- to 10-foot waves.

By the time Cibilic and Coffin took to the water for their 30-minute heat, the wind had slightly calmed and the ocean offered up a four- to six-foot range, breaking with energy in both directions.

The rhythm of the swell remained difficult to anticipate and so wave selection became critical to success.

In this regard, Santa Barbara’s Coffin showed his greater familiarity with the West Coast waters, navigating both left and right with his rail surfing game.

His opening wave earned a heat-best score of 7.83, featuring a row of clean arcs to the right completed with a close-out re-entry.

Cibilic followed on the next wave of the set, trying for the same rail game but losing his footing on the third turn.

With the lead established, Coffin trusted in his right-moving forehand and reached a two-wave score of 15.00 after his sixth and final attempt.

The highlight for Cibilic was his third attempt, where he completed a clean right-hand line of sweeping turns to score 6.17, yet this left him still requiring a second wave score of 8.83 to advance.

In the end, the ocean offered no last chance for the top-ranking rookie, and it was Coffin who went on to challenge, unsuccessfully, the Brazilian three-headed serpent of Filipe Toledo, Italo Ferreira and eventual winner Gabriel Medina.

Medina’s win means he joins the ranks of surfers such as Tom Curren, Andy Irons and Mick Fanning with three world titles.

Morgan Cibilic at Rip Curl Rottnest 2021. Photo supplied: World Surf League/ Matt Dunbar

In the women’s event, Hawaiian Carissa Moore also held on to her first-place entry into the Final 5 Showdown to secure her fifth world title. Australia’s Sally Fitzgibbons and Stephanie Gilmore placed third and fourth.

Having secured qualification for the upcoming 2022 Championship Tour, Cibilic has until January to prepare without the pressure of competing in the ongoing Challenger Series.

Time will tell if he is to be joined by fellow Merewether surfers Philippa Anderson and Jackson Baker, who will look to improve on results from the recent US Open at Huntington Beach at the Vissla Pro Ericeira, Portugal, scheduled for October 2 to 10.

Haakon Barry

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