Like his good mate Morgan Cibilic, Liam O’Brien enjoyed something of a break-out year in 2019. Unlike his mate Morgan, it didn’t end with him qualifying, with a couple of underwhelming results in Hawaii seeing him slip down the ratings.
But looking back, the 20-year-old from Burleigh Heads doesn’t necessarily see it as a bad experience.
‘I don’t know if I’m quite ready for the CT,’ he admits. ‘I’ve got a bit of work to do.’
Despite nearly making the grade, Liam says he always viewed last year as something of a learning experience. It was his first full season competing in the top-rated events. It was also his first full season of dealing with such a relentless travel schedule.
So what did he learn?
To pace himself, for one thing.
Part of his undoing in Hawaii came down to not being able to say no to all the pumping surf.
‘I felt really run down and tired and didn’t perform the way I wanted to,’ he says.
There was also the challenge of adapting to certain locations, with places like Portugal not only seeming a long way from the Gold Coast geographically, but in the way the waves broke as well.
Thankfully, you don’t get the sense Liam is rushing himself or placing undue pressure on his shoulders. He seems comfortable in the knowledge he still needs to improve and is slowly chipping away at it.
His strengths have served him well so far too.
With four WQS wins to his name, it’s clear he’s a savvy competitor. Granted, his wins have only come in QS1,000s, but they’ve helped him build confidence and momentum. A win in the Port Stephens Toyota Pro in 2017 was followed by three wins in 2018 which in turn was followed by a stealthy run through the Vans US Open of Surfing last year, where he fell just one spot short of claiming a QS10,000 against the CT’s Yago Dora.
His surfing itself hasn’t been hard to watch either. His clean rails and long lines show off his pointbreak pedigree. His style fits the mould of the classic Gold Coast surfer good enough for the world stage. But oddly enough, it hasn’t been something he’s really concentrated on.
‘I’ve always been most inspired by air guys and then I’m useless at airs,’ he laughs.
Not that it wouldn’t be unreal to be considered among a lineage of surfers that includes the likes of Mick and Joel.
‘They’re just the pinnacles of Gold Coast surfing,’ he says. ‘To carry on that style of surfing would be a privilege.’
But those kinds of considerations are for later, when he cracks the tour. Right now, with a full year ahead of him and last year’s results not standing for anything besides a good seed, it’s back to square one.
But that’s not quite true. This time around he should be a whole lot savvier.
For the sake of stylish Gold Coast surfing, let’s hope it’s a good year for him.
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