Merewether surfer Morgan Cibilic finished with the triple crown rookie of the year award but with his place on next year's championship tour (CT) in the balance after a dramatic qualifying series (QS) finale at the Vans World Cup of Surfing in Hawaii on Tuesday (AEDT).
Chasing a remarkable rise to the CT with a top 10 season-ending position, the 20-year-old finished 11th on the QS after bowing out in the quarter-finals of the 10,000-point contest at Sunset Beach in bizarre fashion.
Needing a semi-final effort to guarantee his spot on the CT, Cibilic was penalised for interference on fellow QS contender Stuart Kennedy after dropping in on the West Australian, who had priority, in the ninth minute.
Cibilic, who appeared to not see Kennedy, lost the right to a second score, leaving him little chance of making the top two and progressing from the four-man heat under the best two-wave judging system.
He finished last on 4.07 and was eliminated along with CT star and Merewether clubmate Ryan Callinan (7.93).
That and other results meant Cibilic finished just outside the all-important top 10 QS for the year on 18.100 points, but still with a chance to make next year's CT.
He will have to wait until after the world title decider at the Pipe Masters next week to know if he has qualified.
Brazilian Deivid Silva (18,650 points) finished 10th on the QS but he looks set to qualify through the top 22 on the CT, which will give Cibilic a position. Silva is 21st on the standings with only the Pipe Masters remaining.
If Silva or QS qualified Brazilian Yago Dora, who is 25th on the CT, are top 22 finishers after the Pipe Masters, Cibilic will be part of the 34-man dream tour.
It will be an amazing promotion for Cibilic, who had not competed at the prime 10,000-point level on the QS before this year.
"I don't think any of this year has even sunk in a little bit so far," Cibilic said after making the quarter-finals to clinch the triple crown rookie title on Tuesday.
"I came into the start, just like grinding out the 1000s and all of a sudden I'm here, so I'm over the moon. It's unbelievable."
He also beat injury to push his claims in Hawaii after tearing the medial collateral ligament in his knee while surfing seven weeks ago. The injury can require eight weeks of recovery.
He told the Newcastle Herald before leaving for Hawaii three weeks ago that: "I'm just stoked I can surf. Two weeks ago I couldn't even walk so I'm stoked about my recovery."
Cibilic charged into the last eight on Tuesday, earning a 9.17 early in his round of 32 heat. He rode a huge barrel and was smashed by the lip on the exit but somehow stayed upright to get the near-perfect score. He caught only two more waves and wiped out both times, giving him just 1.0 and 0.83.
His 10.17 total put him in the lead until South African Matthew McGillivray dropped a score after the siren to go to 10.6. Jesse Mendes (10.07) and Nolan Rapoza (4.9) exited.
The result cemented Cibilic as the triple crown rookie of the year. The series finale is the Pipe Masters.
"It feels amazing," Cibilic said of winning the honour.
"I was coming over here and that was my major goal, just to win the rookie of the triple crown, just to take my mind off the chance of possibly qualifying."
After his quarter-final loss, Cibilic, on 18,100 points, had to rely on other results to go his way in the QS race.
West Australian Jack Robinson (21,930) dominated the final and booked his place on the 2020 tour. Another Australian, Ethan Ewing (20,400), made the decider to also leapfrog Cibilic. However, Kennedy (17,975) and another West Australian, Jacob Wilcox (16,910), fell short of Cibilic after bowing out in the semis.
Kennedy was last in his semi, but if he had come third, he would have collected another 200 points and gone past Cibilic for the last spot on the CT as it stands.
Ezekiel Lau was the wildcard in the final. If the Hawaiian won back-to-back titles at Sunset Beach, he would have pushed Cibilic out of the qualification equation. He finished second on 12.06 as Robinson won with 19.07.