ON THE RISE: Liam O'Brien advancing to the semi-finals of the 2019 VANS US Open of Surfing after winning quarter-final heat 3 at Huntington Beach.
ON THE RISE: Liam O'Brien advancing to the semi-finals of the 2019 VANS US Open of Surfing after winning quarter-final heat 3 at Huntington Beach. Kenny Morris/WSL via Getty Image

Tweed's Zahli Kelly among Aussies to climb surfing ranks

I AM happy to be proven wrong if I don't get it right.

Our Gold Coast Chargers' ears must have been burning when I queried their passion and maybe lack of drive when overshadowed by the rampaging Brazilian storm.

Just when our fortunes looked like going down the gurgler, the Aussies struck back at Huntington Beach.

Once referred to as the graveyard for any aspiring young Aussies, the Huntington event is the Carnivale of surfing.

The historical battles go way back to those heady days with Cheyne Horan, Tom Curren and Occy in the mid-1980s.

It doesn't matter what the surf is like as long as the fans turn up. That was until a fire erupted during the 1985 event when expatriate Ian Cairns was the contest director. The crowd got a little loose and a riot erupted on Labor Day.

Police were called in and Kanga's career as head of ASP came to an abrupt halt. But from the embers, new beginnings emerged as Huntington celebrated its culture with heritage hall of fame awards directed by another expat Peter Townend.

Nowadays as a World Qualifying Series, it's worth hitting the pilings or grovelling to the last drop with a Huntington bunny hop to the sand.

Burleigh's Liam O'Brien, who has been steadily building momentum with his cool and courteous manner, cut through all the hype with a solid rail-to-rail power game to finish second.

Called the dark horse of the event, his long-time coach Mark Richardson never doubted that Liam would eventually pull off a great result.

He has rocked up the ratings from 45th to 10th and is a real chance to qualify for next year's Dream Tour.

O'Brien is a versatile surfer from 2ft to towering double overheads and is calculating and confident. Last year he cracked the top 100 with a good finish in Hawaii.

If he can do the same in November, he will be our new GC face on the 2020 World Tour.

Jack Freestone has been struggling on the Championship Tour and needed to accumulate some WQS points. By finishing in ninth place at Huntington, Freestone jumped to ninth on the QS and has a decent crack of qualifying in 2020.

The other dark horse who went under the radar of the best women in the world was Tweed's Zahli Kelly. After a slightly average South African tour, Kelly placed a credible ninth at Huntington, beaten by Courtney Conlogue.

Kelly is in seventh within the top-10 cut-off position on the WQS to qualify for the 2020 tour.

So, come on Aussie come on, we want to see Zahli, Liam and Jack make the World Tour cut in 2020 and take down some internationals on the way.

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