Connor O’Leary couldn't put a foot wrong as he smashed his way into his first WSL Championship Tour final to cement his spot in Cronulla surfing history.
The Outerknown Fiji Pro is stop number five on the 2017 World Surf League Championship Tour and after a week of poor waves the final round was called on today in three to five foot (1-1.5m) conditions at Cloudbreak.
Everything went right for Connor who said he was “just happy to get to the quarters, I was pumped” as he saw off fellow rookie France’s Joan Duru with a clever but low scoring combination (11.16 to 10.70).
It was a different proposition in the semi-final against fellow Australian and past world champ Joel Parkinson but Connor lifted again and with a superior wave selection he put together a well structured heat, with great scores, a bit of luck and smart use of priority.
In the final minutes Parkinson was pushed into a bad choice and left Connor with a decisive victory 15.4 to 8.6.
That meant it would be an all goofy foot final and make Connor the first rookie this year to make the last two standing.
“I just have to regroup, drink some water and try to push out another 30 minutes of good surfing” Connor said as he became the first Cronulla surfer in over a decade to make a WSL final and the first as a rookie since Richard Marsh who made the final of Bells as a trialist in 1987.
An 8 point first wave in the final then set up his heat as conditions deteriorated and he hit the reef on his second wave hyper extending his knee – hunting an extra second in the tube but still put a good score as a back up.
Matt Wilkinson his Australian competitor then caught an excellent 8.57 wave but Connor held the lead with his 6.5 backup until Wilkinson stole the lead back with a 6.93 in a rapid exchange leaving a paddle battle back to the lineup.
Priority is everything in these events and Connor made Wilkinson pay by getting out the back first as Wilkinson got punished on the reef when he uncharacteristically fell leaving Connor in the lead with a 7.37 with 15 minutes to go.
Rapid exchanges left Wilkinson needing a 7 to take the lead and with three minutes to go he pulled an 8 which put him back in front leaving Connor looking with priority for a wave which never came – Wilkinson winning 16.6 to 15.7 and taking the championship tour lead.
“I’m stoked,” Connor, whose ratings now jump up into the top ten, said after the final.
“It was a good final, back and forth and we put on a good show.
“Wilko deserved the win. He made the final last year and surfed really well. I’m going to Bali now to train with my coach (Luke Egan) and then onto Ballito (Durban) to defend my QS victory last year.”
Fellow goofyfooter Mark Occhilupo won this contest in 1999 as he became Cronulla’s first and only world surfing champion.
Connor O’Leary is also on his way to greatness.