Usually the subject of who will be next year's Rookie of the Year inspires fierce debate. But in 2017 on the Women's Championship Tour that dispute can be cut short, right now. We can tell you in advance it will be Western Australia's Bronte Macaulay. This is not a bold prediction based on insider info, however. Macaulay hold the unusual distinction of being the only 2017 rookie competing for the first time on the Championship Tour.
As the daughter of legendary surfer and shaper Dave Macaulay, the young powerhouse already has a distinct advantage over many of her peers. Dave finished No. 3 the world in both 1989 and 1993, before retiring after a distinguished pro career to raise his four children and shape surfboards out of Gracetown, Western Australia. Understandably, he's been a huge influence on his daughter, shaping her surfboards and serving as her coach.
With just a few exceptions, 2016 was an incredible year for Bronte. The 22-year-old won a Qualifying Series event for the first time at the Los Cabos Open in Mexico. She finished second on the QS rankings and competed in six CT events as an injury replacement. While her best CT result was a 9th place, the experience of surfing against the very best surfers in the world will be invaluable as she heads into 2017.
Macaulay also has the winds of local pride at her back. She's the first Western Australian to qualify since Claire Bevilacqua did it in 2004. And, now that Taj Burrow has retired, she'll be the sole West Australian surfer on either the men's or the women's CT. That means that when the CT rolls onto home turf at the Margaret River Pro, she will no doubt be gunning for a hometown win. We caught up with Bronte before she sets off for the Tour and tests the waters among the Top 17.
WSL: Having now qualified, has your approach changed at all?
Bronte Macaulay: I don't think my approach has changed too much. If I'm happy with the way I surfed and competed but still lose, I feel fine. I think that doing the best that you can do is the most important thing in any sport but it can be easily forgotten when you're thinking about getting through heats, points, goals, re-qualification or whatever else.
Ranking No. 2 on the QS, what clicked for you last year?
I think I learned so much from the Tour events I surfed, just from taking notes on the way both girls and guys on Tour approach heats. I think Tatiana Weston-Webb and Johanne Defay in particular, just have this amazing self-belief and always seem to perform at their very best. I mean they both won Tour events last year which is so cool. I tried to back myself more in heats and not get down if I felt like I was freesurfing badly before an event.
What do you think will be the biggest challenge for you on the CT?
I got the 2017 calendar a few weeks ago and we worked out that I'll be away for seven months next year. I love being at home in Gracetown and I'm really close to my family, so I think the biggest challenge is being away from home.
Looking back on 2016, what are some of your favorite moments?
My favorite moment on the QS was getting my first win in Cabo, Mexico. The waves were tiny so you couldn't really freesurf and the comp started on a Tuesday but we didn't surf until that weekend, so dad and I just watched Netflix for the whole week. I had some friends at the same hotel, so we hung out in the pool and just cruised. It felt like a holiday. I didn't really expect to do that well but I just ended up getting through heats. Then we went straight to El Salvador to this pumping right pointbreak for the comp. We stayed with Maud Le Car and her mum Cathy and Pauline Ado and her mum, Geisle. We would have beautiful and long French dinners every night and the table would be set perfectly and we would talk for hours.
What have you been up to during the off-season? Any trips planned?
Mostly just hanging at home and surfing with friends and family. But the family did go up to a small fishing town called Cervantes about two hours north of Perth around Christmas time. It's really windy this time of year but we still went out on my uncle's boat with our younger cousins and went and checked out little islands and outer reefs. We went biscuiting and played a lot of dodge on the jetty.
Who will be coming with you on tour?
My Dad is coming to all the events next year. He's done it all before back in the day and I think he enjoys seeing old friends around the world that do the same and helping me out. I feel pretty lost without him at events, and I've got the best chance to get results when he's there to help. My sister Laura also competes, so she will be at some of the QS events. My mum and other sister Ellie are coming to Bells. They are both teachers and it'll be their school holidays.
Heading into the 2017 CT season, what are you most excited for?
I'm excited to have dad in Fiji with me. He's never been there and surfing left reef breaks is his favorite thing to do in the world, so I know he'll have a ball. He comes to all the QS events and travels half way across the world to little beachies, so I think he deserves a couple Cloudbreak sessions. I'm excited to learn and jump into a big year of travel and surf and really give this year a good crack.