Aussies Isabella Nichols and Jack Robinson win Margaret River Pro but rule change leaves bitter taste

Australian surfers Isabella Nichols and Jack Robinson won the World Surf League’s Margaret River Pro on Thursday, but a new rule introduced to the competition this year has not been received well by athletes.

Several big-name surfers — including Tokyo Olympians Sally Fitzgibbons, Owen Wright and Morgan Cibilic — have lost their Championship Tour status after the WSL’s mid-season cut following the West Australian decider.

They will now compete in the second-tier “Challenger Series” as the WSL aims to create more drama and pressure among competitors.

It’s the first time Fitzgibbons has been dropped from the main tour in 14 years and 108 consecutive events.

The former world number one was visibly upset after she lost to Frenchwoman Johanne Defray, who comforted the Aussie while they were still in the water.

“The unconditional love that comes with putting on my jersey #89. Everything about this sport, the surf community, and my dream keeps me coming back for more,” she wrote on social media afterwards.

“I felt every one of those cheers and hugs from you yesterday and hope I can reciprocate when we cross paths in your big moment.”

Wright, who won bronze in Tokyo, was also knocked out after results in another contest. A day earlier, the prospect of being relegated had him reconsidering his surfing future.

Owen Wright is weighing up his future in surfing after being demoted to the second-tier tour.(Getty Images: Aaron Hughes/World Surf League)

“I know I’m surfing really well, but I’ve got a lot of life outside of the tour — kids and wife and what not,” Wright said.

However, the rule change has arguably worked, with lesser-known Aussies Nichols and Robinson claiming their first women’s and men’s titles.

Nichols fought out a tense, low-scoring final against Hawaiian rookie Gabriela Bryan, while local prodigy Robinson overcame two-time World Champion John John Florence.


“So many hours, so much time, so, when you win like this, it’s just really special,” said Robinson, who caught some of the biggest and most-critical waves of the event earlier,” Nichols said after her first Championship tour win.

“I’m just so grateful.”

Going into the Margaret River event, Nichols needed to win and Bryan needed to make the finals to claw their way above the cut from deep in the field.

“For this to actually be happening right now, I feel like I’m still in bed at home, asleep,” she said.

“It’ll take me a while to digest it.

“There is no better feeling than this in the whole world.”

The men’s field will now be cut to 24 from 36 and the women’s to 12 from 18 for the remaining five events.

And the top five men and women surfers will then compete for the title at one-day finals in California in September.


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