Ryan Callinan opens with another battle against Owen Wright when he returns to Portugal on Tuesday following his amazing run to the final at the Quiksilver Pro France on the weekend.
The Merewether surfer became the first from Newcastle to make a championship tour event final since clubmate Luke Egan beat countryman Phil MacDonald in Spain in 2004.
Callinan, a full-time CT surfer in 2016, was making his return to the elite tour as an injury replacement wildcard in France after all but securing his place for 2019 with victory on the qualifying series at the 10,000-point Ericeira Pro in Portugal two weeks ago.
The 26-year-old was a standout in France before losing the final to friend Julian Wilson after a run that started with a round-two win over world No.5 Wright. He went on to topple then-rankings leader Filipe Toledo, former world champion Adriano De Souza, Jordy Smith and Connor Coffin.
The performance earned Callinan a wildcard into the next CT stop, in Portugal starting Tuesday, where he will meet Wright and Hawaiian Ezekiel Lau in round one.
On Saturday morning (AEDT), Callinan led Wilson before the final was put on hold because of fog. Wilson needed a 7.56 to take the lead and produced a massive backhand aerial rotation for an 8.67 with less than six minutes to go for a 15.34 to 14.23 win. Queenslander Wilson, who calls Merewether a second home with his wife and Newcastle model Ashley (nee Osborne), moved within striking distance to third in the world title race.
The loss took nothing away from a remarkable effort for Callinan, who posted an event-high 18.53 total in the round-four win over De Souza and Willian Cardoso. He dominated heats with vertical snaps, powerhouse rail turns and tube riding. His best result previously on the CT was a round-five effort at the 2016 Pipe Masters.
Wilson said it was “incredibly special” to share the final with Callinan and he had to bring his “A-game” to win.
“It's been an incredible journey to watch Ryan blossom and show his true potential finally,” Wilson said.
“I've been kicking him in the bum for years, just saying ‘C'mon mate, you've got so much more to give, just let it out’ and he's finally doing it.”
Callinan said it “felt more like a dream” to make the final.
“I’m sure it’ll sink in soon though and I’m just so happy to be here and be a part of it in France,” he said. “I couldn’t have asked for anything better [than a final with Wilson], even finishing second to him, I know he’s going for something special and that was a big event for him. We’ve grown to be really good friends and I was happy to share that special moment with him.”
Callinan sits second on the QS and has two 10,000-point events remaining, but he is all but assured of a top 10 finish and CT spot for 2019. He will again surf without pressure in Portugal.
“Having nothing to lose here, I surfed with a load of freedom,” he said. “I've also focused a lot more on the waves I'm surfing, rather the opponent or the conditions or the scores. I'm being way more present in every moment and taking everything as it comes and that seems to be working for me way better. To make a CT final here was beyond anything I could have ever expected.”
The goofy-footer led the decider courtesy of a 6.83 from multiple hits on his forehand. After the fog-forced delay, Wilson landed his first aerial for a 6.67 to leave him just behind Callinan. The wildcard then extended his lead with a 7.40 with 10 minutes remaining before Wilson had the last say.
In the women’s final, Avoca’s Macy Callaghan, another wildcard, lost to Courtney Conlogue 14.76 to 10.96.
It was easily the best CT result for Callaghan, the 2016 world junior champion, who has appeared only eight times on the tour.
"I had a bad run at the start of the year and Bells was probably the low point,” Callaghan said.
“I was emotional and not in a good place. I wasn't believing in myself or my surfing. I haven't even made the final of a big qualifying series event before, so to make my first championship tour final is unbelievable. I'm disappointed that I didn't perform to my best in the final, but the bigger picture is so positive. There's been a big change and that is that I believe in myself and my surfing. I've learned so much here in France and had so much fun doing it. I'll never forget this experience."
Callaghan defeated Nikki Van Dijk, Sally Fitzgibbons, Coco Ho and Bronte Macaulay to make the decider.
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