It's been a tough year for most of the rookies on Tour this season. Connor O'Leary has bucked that trend, however. Last year at this time he was watching the Fiji Pro webcast while working part time at a surf shop in Cronulla, Australia. After booking his ticket to the Championship Tour by winning the Qualifying Series in 2016, the big goofyfooter came to Fiji sitting ranked at No. 15 slot, comfortably positioned for requalification nearly halfway through the season -- not to mention holding a significant lead in the Rookie of the Year chase.
Coached up by another powerful Aussie goofyfooter, Luke Egan, O'Leary had a plan and never wavered -- attack, attack, attack, and take to the tube when the opportunity arises. Even with a win over Kelly Slater in Round Three, he had a scrappy run through the event, winning ugly -- he didn't get his first excellent ride until his Semifinal win over former World Champ Joel Parkinson. "That was one of the scrappier heats I've had in my life," said an ecstatic O'Leary, "I'm just over the moon, I can't thank Luke and Martin Dunn enough." Up next: Bali for some training with Egan, then a return to South Africa to defend his Ballito Pro title. Sounds better than sweeping floors at the surf shop, right?