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Morgan Cibilic aims to be himself as he readies to climb the world professional surfing rankings – he made a good start last week, finishing third at the second event of 2021 World Surfing League (WSL) tour. Image: WSL

Out of the blue, into the green

Geoff Helisma

Morgan Cibilic grew up surfing Angourie before relocating to Newcastle, where he is a member of Merewether Surfboard Club – last week he took down two-times world champion Hawaiian John John Florence at the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup, made it to the semi finals and climbed the ratings ladder to number seven in the world.

Cibilic’s rapid rise into the elite rankings of professional surfing started in 2019 in Hawaii when he came from obscurity to chase down the 10th and final spot to qualify for the World Surfing League’s 2020 championship tour (WCT) – which was put on hold due to the covid-19 pandemic.

At the risk of a pattern forming, Cibilic has achieved his most notable results surfing injured – he wore a knee brace to qualify at the 2019 Hawaiian Pro and the Vans World Cup of Surfing; and last week he surfed with a broken toe.

Two-times world champion and world No. 2, Brazilian Gabriel Medina, has proved to be Cibilic’s nemesis in the first two events of the 2021 season – Billabong Pipeline Masters in Hawaii (17th) and last week’s event in Newcastle (third).

But Cibilic isn’t fazed by that and says he’s feeling “pretty relaxed” and “in a good headspace”.

“My coach, Jay Bottle Thompson [WCT surfer 2008, 09, 10], helps to keep me settled and stuff, he’s done it all before,” says Cibilic.

“I just want to be myself and do what I can do; I don’t want to be like anyone else.”

He says his toe is on the mend, but it probably won’t fully heal during the Australian leg of the tour, with the Narrabeen Classic starting on Friday (April 16-26), followed by two events in Western Australia at Margaret River (May 2-12) and Rottnest Island (May 16-26).

On his way to third place, Cibilic also eliminated Australians Wade Carmichael (world rated No. 15) and Ryan Callinan (world rated No. 4).

Cibilic’s biography on the WSL website reads: “Spending his time growing up between the surfing hubs of Angourie and Merewether, it is no surprise that the natural footer has a smooth, powerful style, groomed on those two famous right-hand points.

“Yet Cibillic has always flown relatively under-the-radar and he failed to land any significant results as a junior.

“Quiet, but self-assured, he nonetheless hit the qualifying series fulltime in 2018, finishing just outside the top 100.

“That’s why his qualification the next year was the season’s biggest surprise.

“He jumped 100 spots in 12 months [during] a solid European leg, [which] was backed by some incredible performances in Hawaii [in 2019].

“As the last qualifier and the least known surfer in the field, Cibillic will enter the [cancelled] 2020 CT season with little to lose, and plenty to gain.

“His competitors will do well not to underestimate the affable Aussie.”