Merewether surfer Ryan Callinan said it felt like a dream to make a championship tour final after finishing his epic wildcard run at the Quiksilver Pro France with a narrow loss to good friend Julian Wilson on Saturday (AEDT).
Callinan, a full-time CT surfer in 2016, was making his return to the elite tour as an injury replacement wildcard 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 the standout competitor of the French event, beating world No.5 Owen Wright, then-points leader Filipe Toledo, former world champion Adriano De Souza, Jordy Smith and Connor Coffin to meet Wilson in the final.
Callinan led the adopted Novocastrian in the decider, which was put on hold midway through because of fog. Wilson needed a 7.56 to take the lead and produced a massive backhand aerial reverse 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 an amazing run from Callinan, who posted an event-high 18.53 total in the round-four win over De Souza and Willian Cardoso and dominated his heats with a combination of 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.
“This doesn’t feel real but more like a dream,” Callinan said.
“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. It’s really exciting.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything better [than sharing the 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.”
The performance gave Callinan a wildcard into the next stop on the CT in Portugal from October 16.
"We've been working on my completions and having nothing to lose here so 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."
He led the decider early 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, who then extended his lead with a 7.40 with 10 minutes remaining. But Wilson had the final say to seal an emotional win. A minute’s silence was held before the decider for former Quiksilver CEO Pierre Agnes, who was lost at sea this year.
"I want to dedicate this win to Pierre Agnes," Wilson said. "He was such a beautiful human being who has done so much for surfing in France. It's a really special day. To win for him, to get back in the world title race and to have my wife and child here is amazing. It's all fairly overwhelming."
“To share the final with Ryan was incredible too.
“I loved surfing against [Gabriel] Medina, too. There’s just so much I can be thankful for. I had to bring my A-game to beat Ryan in the final. I’ve lost my first final here against Medina and I think I hold a grudge since then and this year finally it happened.”
In the Roxy Pro France, another injury replacement wildcard, Avoca’s Macy Callaghan, was also a finalist.
The 17-year-old went down to American 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.