Gold Coast surfer Liam O’Brien has joined the sport’s elite and qualified for next year’s World Surf League Championship Tour.
- O’Brien made the semifinal of the Rottenest Island event in WA last year
- He will compete at Hawaii’s Pipeline event in late January
- Mick Fanning was the last Australian male to win a surfing world title in 2013
O’Brien’s semifinal loss in the Haleiwa Challenger was enough to secure his place in among the sport’s top 36 male competitors.
“It’s pretty surreal — it’s definitely a life-long dream of mine to make it onto the big stage,” the 22-year-old said.
Last year the engineering student was a wildcard entry in the Rip Curl Search event at Rottenest Island, Western Australia and made it through to the semifinals.
“When you go to that next level it’s quite daunting,” O’Brien said.
“So to have had a little bit of experience is really helpful and I’ll at least know a little bit about what to expect.
His first challenge will be in Hawaii on January 29, when the Men’s Championship Tour will kick off at the famed Pipeline surf break.
“Pipe’s pretty scary,” O’Brien said.
“I’m not super comfortable, but I have surfed it quite a bit and I do enjoy surfing out there.
The last Australian man to win a world title was fellow Gold Coaster Mick Fanning in 2013.
Surfing commentator Terry “Tappa” Teece said O’Brien might need some time to establish himself among the sport’s elite, but he had the potential to win a world title.
“He’s got the ability to do anything, he’s a smart kid, he’s extremely talented,” Teece said.
The sport has been dominated in recent years by Brazilian surfers, Italo Ferreira and Gabriel Medina, who are regarded as aerial experts.
Teece said aerial manoeuvres were now a requirement among top-tier surfers and that O’Brien’s strongest attribute was his dynamic style.
“He didn’t have those aerial tricks,” Teece said.
“But he’s got those now in his kit bag of tricks and he can basically do anything.
O’Brien grew up on the Gold Coast and is a member of the Burleigh Boardriders Club.
“The club has been so supportive of me since I have been a little kid and they’ve helped develop my surfing a helped develop me as a person,” he said.
“Growing up in that environment is really coo — you have all of your elders around that surf and give you tips.