Isabella Nichols and Cole Houshmand emerged victorious at the GWM Sydney Surf Pro Presented by Bonsoy, the second stop of the 2023 World Surf League (WSL) Challenger Series. The event took place at North Narrabeen, where the competitors faced a challenging field and a variety of surf conditions on Finals Day, with wave heights reaching an impressive six to eight feet.
Isabella Nichols had experienced disappointment just a month prior when she narrowly missed the Mid-season Cut, losing her spot on the Championship Tour (CT). However, she quickly rebounded with an outstanding performance at the GWM Sydney Surf Pro, putting herself back on track to reclaim her elite-level status. Nichols initially had doubts about participating in the event due to a difficult year and a lack of confidence. However, she credited her victory to surrounding herself with positive influences and supportive individuals.
In the final, Nichols faced fellow Australian Sally Fitzgibbons, who had been the standout performer throughout the competition. Despite Fitzgibbons' experience and the solid left-handers on offer, Nichols displayed her determination and skill, earning a two-wave total of 13.84, including an excellent 8.14 single wave. With her win, Nichols now sits at third place in the rankings as she prepares for the Ballito Pro in July.
Reflecting on her performance, Nichols expressed her initial anxiety about the challenging surf conditions but highlighted the personal growth and self-discovery she experienced throughout the event. Like Nichols, Sally Fitzgibbons had also lost her CT spot but immediately made a strong return to the Challenger Series, securing third and second place finishes in consecutive events. Fitzgibbons' second-place finish at the GWM Sydney Surf Pro solidified her position in the rankings and her determination to regain her spot on the elite level.
“It was so solid out there,” Nichols continued. “I was really anxious before heading out and we both copped a few massive waves on the head. It was good to finally get a few waves and challenge myself. I’ve discovered so much about myself that I didn’t know before.”
On the men's side, Cole Houshmand from the USA started his Challenger Series campaign with a disappointing first-round elimination on the Gold Coast. However, he found his stride at North Narrabeen, drawing energy from his fellow Californians who cheered him on from the beach. Houshmand's consistent performance throughout the event led him to the final, where he faced Jacob Willcox from Australia.
With a powerful and committed approach, Houshmand posted the highest single wave score and heat total of the event. His impressive 18.97 two-wave total, which included a near-perfect 9.80, proved insurmountable for Willcox. Houshmand's victory marked a significant milestone in his young career and showcased his potential among the talented field.
“I’m kind of speechless right now,” Houshmand said. “It all worked out in my favour and all the hard work is paying off so I’m so stoked. This tour is insane, there is so much talent and so many people who deserve to be on tour so to make it this far means a lot. You go into every event wanting to win but it’s not that easy; these events are really challenging so I’m stoked to break away and get my first win.”
Jacob Willcox continued his strong start to the 2023 Challenger Series season, narrowly missing CT qualification on previous occasions. His runner-up finish at the GWM Sydney Surf Pro marked the best result of his career and propelled him to the top of the Challenger Series rankings. Willcox acknowledged the difficulty of securing second place but remained optimistic about his performance, considering his improved standing compared to last year's results.
“Getting second is tough but I’m still feeling really good about this,” Willcox said. “After two events last year I had two last-place finishes and today I have a fifth and a second so I’m in a bit of a different spot right now. It was really challenging out there but it was definitely awesome to get some powerful surf. It was good to surf with Cole, he was ripping all week and I’m stoked to be sitting in this position now.”