Australians Isabella Nichols and Jack Robinson win Margaret River Pro but rule change leaves bitter taste

Australian surfers Isabella Nichols and Jack Robinson won the World Surfing League’s Margaret River Pro on Thursday, but a new rule introduced to the competition this year has not gone down well with athletes.

Several big-name surfers – including Tokyo Olympians Sally Fitzgibbons, Owen Wright and Morgan Cibilic – lost their Championship Tour status after the WSL’s mid-season cut following the Western Australia decider.

They will now compete in the second tier “Challenger Series” as the WSL aims to create more drama and pressure among the competitors.

It is the first time Fitzgibbons has been removed from the main tour in 14 years and 108 consecutive events.

The former world number one was visibly upset after her loss to Frenchwoman Johanne Defray, who comforted the Australian while she was still in the water.

“The unconditional love that comes with putting on my #89 jersey. Everything about this sport, the surfing community and my dream keeps me coming back for more,” she later wrote on social media.

“I felt every one of those cheers and hugs from you yesterday and I hope I can return the favor when we meet in your big moment.”

Wright, who won bronze in Tokyo, was also eliminated after results in another contest. A day earlier, the prospect of being relegated had made him reconsider his future as a surfer.

Owen Wright reflects on his future in surfing after being demoted to the second-tier circuit.(Getty Images: Aaron Hughes/World Surfing League)

“I know I surf very well, but I have a lot of life outside of touring – kids and a wife and so on,” Wright said.

However, the rule change arguably worked, with lesser-known Australians Nichols and Robinson winning their first women’s and men’s titles.

Nichols played out a tense, low-scoring final against Hawaiian rookie Gabriela Bryan, while local wonderkid Robinson defeated two-time world champion John John Florence.

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“So many hours, so much time, so when you win like that, it’s really special,” said Robinson, who captured some of the event’s biggest and most critical waves earlier, ” said Nichols after his first championship tour win.

“I’m so grateful.”

Heading into the Margaret River event, Nichols needed to win and Bryan needed to advance to the final to fight his way over the cup from the back of the court.

“For this to happen right now, I feel like I’m still in bed at home, asleep,” she said.

“It will take me time to digest it.

“There is no better feeling than this in the whole world.”

The men’s field will now be reduced to 24 out of 36 and the women’s field to 12 out of 18 for the remaining five events.

And the top five male and female surfers will then battle it out for the title in one-day finals in California in September.

Reuters/ABC

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