Eyes of the world on Margaret River next week as World Surf League cut-off endangers surfer rankings

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Filipe Toledo of Brazil after winning the Final at the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach on April 17.
Camera IconFilipe Toledo of Brazil after winning the Final at the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach on April 17. Credit: Ed Sloane/World Surf League

The World Surf League’s introduction of a mid-year cut looks to make the Margaret River Pro one of the most watched international surf contests on the planet when it kicks off next week.

With the local trials held on Wednesday, and local surfers anxious about access to their prime breaks in peak conditions, the eyes of the world will again return to the region when the first Championship Tour heats kick off on Sunday.

Local favourites Jack Robinson and Bronte Macaulay will fly the flag for Margaret River, and Robinson’s recent form and superiority at The Box have set tongues wagging about his chances against Bells Beach Pro male winner Felipe Toledo, now ranked No.1 on the tour.

Last year, Robinson faced off against Toledo at The Box, schooling the Brazilian in what pundits called a “masterclass”, though Toledo went on to claim the top prize.

Banter among professionals, posted by WSL online, showed plenty of the sport’s leading names experiencing a touch of anxiety taking on Robinson at his home break.

“On paper, he’s the scariest guy out here,” revered international veteran Kelly Slater said.

Speaking to the WSL, Robinson said his approach to local conditions was to remain relaxed.

“You can overthink the whole thing. You’ve got to be calm and just cruise and chill. Just forget everything around (you),” he said.

“Ever since then (when he was 12) it’s just another day out there for me when it’s that good.”

Robinson was narrowly edged out of a spot in the finals at Bells, with Australian rookie Callum Robson defeating the local product 11.86 to 11.50 in a semifinal.

Tyler Wright scored the win for the women at Bells, and Macaulay was surfing in good form for the upcoming women’s contest.

However, all the talk around Margaret River was focused on surfers protesting against the mid-year cut — which their professional body agreed to — in a move by the WSL welcomed by online surf pundits, who said it injected higher stakes into the CT.

The Margaret River Pro will decide which of the top 22 men and 10 women will progress.

Surfing WA chief executive Mark Lane said the cut-off was “a brutal part of professional sport”.

“The cut-off has generated some talking points — understandably so, as surfers who are on the wrong side of the cut are effectively ‘delisted’ in AFL terms, and are then forced to requalify,” he said.

“The interesting point, however, is that this deal was done 18 months ago, with surfer involvement, so it’s not a new thing. Possibly (it is) more the reality of surfers losing positions on the tour — and guarantee of earnings — that has really hit home.”

Competitors who bomb out of the top tier in next week’s competition will be relegated to the Challenger series, dampening their earnings as well as rankings for next year’s CT.

Robinson was secure on the men’s list, along with Aussies Callum Robson and Ethan Ewing and previous double winner John John Florence.

For the women, only the top four berths were secure, meaning Macaulay, languishing at the 18th spot in the rankings, was unlikely to make it through.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails