Isabella Nichols and Cole Houshmand Win Sydney Surf Pro

NORTH NARRABEEN, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia (Monday, May 22, 2023) - Isabella Nichols and Cole Houshmand have won the Sydney Surf Pro, stop No.2 of the 2023 World Surf League Challenger Series. The pair overcame a huge field and an array of conditions, to claim victory in solid six-to-eight foot surf at North Narrabeen on Finals Day.

Nichols Overcomes Fitzgibbons in All-Australian Final 

Less than a month after the disappointment of falling short of the Mid-season Cut and losing her spot on the Championship Tour, Isabella Nichols has bounced back with a win at the Sydney Surf Pro. After a slow start to her requalification campaign on the Gold Coast, Nichols is well and truly back on track to regain her position at the elite level with her impressive win today.

“This is not what I expected at the beginning of this week,” Nichols said. “In all honesty, I was considering not coming to this event because I just wasn’t in a great headspace. It’s been a really tough year for me and my confidence has been really low so it’s crazy to be here now having won the event. I just surrounded myself with great people and with plenty of positivity and it’s made such a difference.” 

Isabella (WSL/Dunbar)

In the Final, Nichols came up against competitive veteran Sally Fitzgibbons who had been the standout performer at North Narrabeen all week. With the solid surf and predominately left-handers on offer, Fitzgibbons's experience looked like it would give her an edge but Nichols had other ideas, posting a two-wave total of 13.84 which included an excellent 8.14 single wave. Nichols now sits at No. 3 on the rankings heading into the Ballito Pro this July.

“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.” 

Similarly to Nichols, Sally Fitzgibbons lost her spot on the CT after the Mid-season Cut and has returned to the Challenger Series and set a high standard immediately, finishing third and second in back-to-back events. Fitzgibbons’ result today has locked her in at second place on the rankings and well on her way back to the elite level, battling for World Titles once again. 

“This trophy is so special – it’s a tough journey to get to the podium these days,” Fitzgibbons said. “The women’s tour is in such a good place and there are a lot of women who deserve to be up here today. I love the support we get here from the locals; there’s been such good energy getting sent out way all week.” 

Cole Houshmand Posts Event High Total for Career First Win 

Cole Houshmand started his Challenger Series campaign off with a first-round elimination at the Gold Coast and came to North Narrabeen needing a massive result to get his year back on track. The 22-year-old San Clemente local found form early and fed off the energy of his fellow Californians who were cheering him on from the beach all week as he built through the event to book a spot in the Final. 

“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.”

Cole (WSL/Dunbar)

Coming up against Jacob Willcox in the Final, Houshmand was going to have to put on a strong performance, and that’s exactly what he did, posting the highest single wave score and heat total of the event. Houshmands 18.97 two-wave total included a near-perfect 9.80 which he was rewarded for his committed powerful approach in the chunky beachbreak peaks. The total was too much for Willcox to chase down, leaving Houshmand to take the biggest win of his young career. 

“I’ve loved my time here in Narrabeen,” Houshmand continued. “We’ve had pumping waves the whole time and a lot of fun with the local crew and all the boys I’m travelling with. I’ll definitely be coming back.” 

Jacob Willcox has continued his great start to the 2023 Challenger Series season. The exciting young goofy-footer has narrowly missed CT qualification on multiple occasions but has his campaign off to a flying start with back-to-back Finals Day appearances. Although he fell short of the win today, Willcox’s runner-up finish is the best of his career and has rocketed him to No. 1 on the Challenger Series rankings. 

Jacob (WSL/Dunbar)

“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.” 

Sydney Surf Pro Men's Final Result: 
1. Cole Houshmand (USA) 18.97
2. Jacob Willcox (AUS) 13.23

Sydney Surf Pro Women's Final Result: 
1. Isabella Nichols (AUS) 13.84
2. Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 10.14

Sydney Surf Pro Men's Semifinal Results: 
HEAT 1: Cole Houshmand (USA) 15.33 DEF. Jackson Baker (AUS) 13.00
HEAT 2: Jacob Willcox (AUS) 13.13 DEF. Marco Mignot (FRA) 7.87

Challenger Series Rankings:

  1. India Robinson - 16,085
  2. Sally Fitzgibbon - 13,885
  3. Isabella Nichols - 13,320
  1. Jacob Willcox - 12,545
  2. Imaikalani deVault - 11,120
  3. Samuel Pupo - 10,700


lost's picture
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lost Monday, 22 May 2023 at 7:31pm

Sally was completely out surfed when she missed the cut and there was plenty of outrage at her being gifted a harvey-Norman-boost-Great-Wall wild card for 2023 to only miss the cut again. In hindsight that “gift” was more of a curse. I think she needed to be properly cut to find some spark. Great to see her now swinging and most likely back on tour. Just kill those ads please.

nicko74's picture
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nicko74 Monday, 22 May 2023 at 9:24pm

I prefer watching these comps , they seem a little more grassroots. The surfers have more to prove, they can’t take anything for granted if they’re serious about progressing their competitive careers.

I reckon Isabella was a bit of a dark horse considering India’s form coming off her win at snapper and for that matter I had Baker or Wilcox pegged for the win in the men’s .

that young seppo was a real surprise but he definitely deserved it . As a side note I really like Jacob and reckon he’s extremely competent but I think Ronnie was blowing a little too much smoke up his bum imo.

Standingleft's picture
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Standingleft Tuesday, 23 May 2023 at 3:59pm

gotta say, the thought of Ronnie with some kind of tubular smoke in arse blowing device, as a mental image.. well .. it doesn't sit comfortably with me haha

BarbB's picture
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BarbB Tuesday, 23 May 2023 at 6:27am

Looks like there are no superstars coming up through the ranks. Samuel Pupo is next level. Surprising Sammy fell off the WCT. Imaikalani deVault we have seen before and Morgan Cibilic, both have their degree of excitement. Morgs surfed very very well duing this comp. Like Sammy, Morgs looks a cut above the rest. Cole Houshmand was certainly in tune with the lefts over two days, the previous day looking like Tom Carroll from 1983 Surfabout. Despite some great waves in the final day and drawing excellent lines on the lefts over two days, Cole Houshmand lacks wow factor, to me, with a heavy backfoot dependent style, but would be a very interesting new addition to the WCT, to see how he goes & evolves among the big boys. Like young Owen Wright, big Cole Houshmand also has an air game. Looks like Jacob Willcox will make the tour making up the numbers. Jacob was disappointing on the final's day, falling a lot. Jadson is still there & is surfing very well; got the first real (long) barrel at the Carpark Rights. Jackson Baker is confident. I must have missed Mikey McDonagh's waves. Sally & Sophie McCulloch packed two barrels on Saturday but on Sunday the relevant women (unnamed) were unable to surf the best barreling waves of the competition. The men would have lit up those barrels. Sawyer Lindblad surfed impressive in the earlier rounds. Bella Kenworthy has potential, with good lines & moves, but still surfs like a grom (which she still is).

stunet's picture
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stunet Tuesday, 23 May 2023 at 6:17am

"...with a heavy backfoot dependent style"

You say that like it's a bad thing.

BarbB's picture
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BarbB Tuesday, 23 May 2023 at 6:19am

Its one-dimensional & safety-surfing. Medina is the benchmark of risking taking unpredictability.

stunet's picture
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stunet Tuesday, 23 May 2023 at 6:27am

First time I've heard back foot heavy surfing called safety surfing.

Anyway, he's got a good air game on him too. Every second surf clip on IG is fly high.

BarbB's picture
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BarbB Tuesday, 23 May 2023 at 6:32am

For sure. Good air game. He is a good surfer and worthy of a WCT opportunity. He could improve a lot, as I mentioned. But, yes, the John John & Ethan fan club obviously think backfoot safety surfing off the very back of the tail pad is the pinnacle of surfing evolution.

Surfalot67's picture
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Surfalot67 Tuesday, 23 May 2023 at 7:35am

BarbB, what are you on about? :) JJF and EE's surfing is safety surfing? What do you think is 'evolved" surfing? Poo-stance wide-footed pumping down the line past multiple sections towards a predictable punt? Not in my mind, but you do you I guess.

Island Bay's picture
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Island Bay Tuesday, 23 May 2023 at 8:17am

There is backfoot/frontfoot surfing, and high risk/safety surfing, but I personally see zero correlation.

bbbird's picture
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bbbird Tuesday, 23 May 2023 at 10:09pm

One pinnacle of balanced surfing

freeride76's picture
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freeride76 Tuesday, 23 May 2023 at 8:39am

I thought his rail game, compared to JJF/EE was more off the fins and tail rail- with a slide component.

stunet's picture
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stunet Tuesday, 23 May 2023 at 9:14am

To an extent I agree. Reckon part of that is body mechanics. At one point in the webby, Luke Kennedy said Cole "rides high in the saddle", meaning his torso is upright, which is true compared to other tall units like Owen Wright - who Luke and Stace Galbraith were comparing him.

The reason for that is, Cole surf with his front foot more square across the stringer, which, in a natural stance, reduces his bended knees, and keeps him more upright. I have a feeling it also focuses power towards the back of the board rather than someone with foot angled more towards the front of the board.

Personally, I dig it. If he can repeat those frontside bottom turns he did at Narra - swinging like a wrecking ball in a hard arc from base to lip - then bring it on.

EDIT: But as mentioned below, there's f/all opportunity to use it on the CT.

BarbB's picture
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BarbB Tuesday, 23 May 2023 at 10:15am

That's the terminology! "Off the fins".

Standingleft's picture
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Standingleft Tuesday, 23 May 2023 at 8:44am

Bella and Jake could do with a shot of what Sal is having. She doesn't seem to have a worry in the world and has found a freedom to go out there and attack. These young guns seem tense and nervous, can't relax.

BarbB's picture
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BarbB Tuesday, 23 May 2023 at 10:13am

Sure. That's professional surfing. I'd say maybe the worst surfer mentally I ever saw was Julian Wilson. Julian wouldn't sleep nights. I'm not sure it was wise for Bella to reveal her mental issues on camera.

Standingleft's picture
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Standingleft Tuesday, 23 May 2023 at 10:25am

Yes Julian struggled with it. Hoping we'll see Robbo back asap. He's one who seems to have wrestled those demons and just leaves it all on the beach and goes surfing. The talent is there. Sally should be bottling her froth

crg's picture
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crg Tuesday, 23 May 2023 at 12:23pm

Don’t know if it was inadvertent…but I love the Talking Heads reference.

Standingleft's picture
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Standingleft Tuesday, 23 May 2023 at 2:31pm

Haha yes plagiarized that joke from Post Punk and yes sorry I'm not labelling anyone a 'Psycho Killer'.
Just saying they've got the moves, that's not the problem, going next level like Sally's done mentally to deal with the pressure is a crucial ingredient. I just hope some of it rubbed off on Bella as Sal carried her up the beach (good-sport award right there) because her talent (& Jacob's) is breathtaking but it seems to me, a craggy old nobody, making it as a professional competitive surfer at the pointy end of the tour is mostly a mind game.
That's something Kelly Slater should be acknowledged for, his mind is a fortress !
(never heard him laugh at a good joke though)

Standingleft's picture
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Standingleft Tuesday, 23 May 2023 at 2:49pm

I'd be happy to help with a Standingleft special pressure relieving playlist.
Some Farnsey - 'i was frightened by the surfer, with desperation in their eyes... Take the pressure down '
Maybe Queen/Bowie 'the terror of knowing what the woz is about, watchin some good friends scream let me out' Under Pressure

It doesn't matter which sport you play. Pressure is the enemy of performance.
Call me

Standingleft's picture
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Standingleft Tuesday, 23 May 2023 at 9:04am

And anyway we don't need to worry about any goofy's backfoot heavy forehand attack, there's very little opportunity to use it.

freeride76's picture
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freeride76 Tuesday, 23 May 2023 at 9:21am


It's a skillset they will hardly use.

Standingleft's picture
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Standingleft Tuesday, 23 May 2023 at 9:56am

Three cheers for North Narra. It's a great competition venue, it has the juice that the competitors love and with points awarded for every type of move, including goofys on their forehand, I find it one of the most entertaining.
Sydney Australia deserves its place at the very pinnacle of surfing. That's where the thruster came from for a start

SR1's picture
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SR1 Tuesday, 23 May 2023 at 11:03am

All I see is a bunch of young surfers having a crack and living their dream. Sure not all who make the tour are generational talents but that’s no different than any other sport. Good on them for having a go. Less criticism more positivity.

PCS PeterPan's picture
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PCS PeterPan Tuesday, 23 May 2023 at 12:25pm

Some great action with this comp . Houshmand looks alright by me . Reckon his "balance" is ok too! One thing I like is his surfing is slightly unpredictable . That can't be said for some of the others on show .
Hate to say it , but some of the aussie men looked stale in comparison . Doing four vert backhand snaps
doesn't cut it for me .

RockyIsland's picture
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RockyIsland Tuesday, 23 May 2023 at 5:01pm

Agree...watched a lot of the last 2 challenger series events and so many times a back side rider doing 2 vert backhand snaps out scored a rider on their forehand getting much longer rides with a lot more variety.
2 backhand snaps beats a cover up/tube, two off the lips/tags/rios (whatever they are called these days) a floater and a roundhouse.
A pair beats a royal flush....backhand snaps starting to get boring to watch.
Not saying they are easy but just over done.
But what else can you do on your backhand. Just putting it out there.
Also Judges push critical manoeuvres in the pocket. You can't get anymore in the pocket than in the tube but surfers are now barrel dodging to get a score. More gymnastics than surfing these days but I am old school.

Solitude's picture
Solitude's picture
Solitude Tuesday, 23 May 2023 at 1:38pm

What a difference it makes when a comp has waves. They did well, got 1000 heats done in good to very good conditions

bogtrotter676767's picture
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bogtrotter676767 Wednesday, 24 May 2023 at 8:17am

Fitz paddling around in the washing machine rip without any real chance of getting a high scoring wave, while leaving Bella out on open blue water where she could, and did? Errrrrr.....
Well, Bella needed a boost to get her out of her mental slump I suppose.....

Komodo's picture
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Komodo Wednesday, 24 May 2023 at 11:24am

Nailed it!

truebluebasher's picture
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truebluebasher Wednesday, 24 May 2023 at 11:14pm

Sydney round of 16 ~ Le Top Secret toppling of Bean Can Pyramid...oops! Ya bloody great Galoot tbb!
Blowin French 5/16 competitors (vs) Locals Only slack arse Aussies managed just 4/16 slots...Wow!
Questions as to why the CS was invented...anyone! Welcome to have a crack!

Pretty amazing stats Huh!
tbb was sure that all the kooks try their luck at Sydney Slop like a Pigs Trough...just get stuck in there!
2020 Banned Italian Leonardo 2021 (Covid) 2022 Indo win 2023 US win (Few would pick winners!)

Considering France's only un-sponsored Pro just fell off the CT & not coping too well on the CS queue...
So where did these French revolutionaries rise from...& why do they Le poo poo on us Aussies?

Wanna try that again...check Le French Revolution on CS Rankings

#8 Marcel Marceau made the Sydney SF (Surfs pretty fast he does!)
France bizarrely has 6 surfers parked on promotion into mid 2024 Olympic CT.
Olympics > Viva La France...getting the picture...Huh!

CT is designed to reward Olympic Surfing...
Here's how it works...Each CS downsizes to reward higher % CT Pros to upcoming Olympic Nations.
Kinda makes each Olympic Nation think their Olympics produces Champs (Bang for yer Buck) = Invest!
WSL are selling Olympic Pro Upgrades to dickheads that buy into it & hand out Champ Stickers!

Brazil Olympics are over > CS Cull 2020-22% > 2021-20% > 2023-15% ( CS % Camp)

Oz 2023 Can gear down > CS Cull 2020 -25% > 2021-20% > 2023-15% ( CS % Camp)

Tokyo Olympics need to capitalize on Silver / Bronze Medals > Despite Downsizing
Despite CS Downsizing WSL rewards Olympic Nation with a healthy 5% CT slot (Lock it in!)
Japan have done Surfing Proud & can bank on WSL generous CS Grid Positions

France 2024 need fast upgrades to showcase their Olympic CT payload rewards.
Win lose or draw at Club Med...France refuses to be laughed at...France showcase their CT status!
Ya see! WSL can deliver the same to any Olympic Nation...
Reduce Competitors 5% >10% >15% increase Olympic Poll positions by 5% >10% >15% [Sign here!]
France are stacking the line-up > CS 2020 -5% >2022-10% > 2023-15% (Over representing Surf Pop!)

USA 2028 are steadily building their CT dominance to meet 2028 Olympics.
Despite CS downgrades US is also slowly building from 15% > 2028 (20% CS Poll spots)
Hawaii likewise are camping on 10% > 2028 (15-20% CS Poll spots)
Any can review these increases...GC / Sydney > Show Oz competitors down 5% (vs) US / Hawaii up 5%
Now flip as Oz is also down 5% in Hawaii but US / Hawaii hold firm.
This will reflect in Rankings > CS Top 4/6 Hawaii / US + more grouping with France to get on CT.
Each future CS Grid locks out Oz further...starting to think Starkie was hired for Olympic Gridlock.
Pretty interesting during Travel Restrictions / Recoveries...All say Aye...(Stage managed & Bankable!)

Olympics choose the Chix they want "Johanne!" so WSL can add on some Plug & Plays.
EU chix market is comin' on with France 2024...big bucks this....
Crew can now flick to Sydney Chix for a repeat dose...
Portuguese Chix clocked 4/16 ...again ! WTF...Where did that come from?
Surely tbb is having a lend...Nope! Whole show is already well over cooked for Olympic Pie in the Sky!
Not only that...Basque Country Chix are also rockin' the CS in the lead up to France 2024...
Like Basque-ing in the Sun ... See wotz goin' on folks...all a bit too much it is...tbb needs a lie down!

CS delivers the goods for Olympic Host then milk the Backwash...Yum! Yum!

So the future Olympic Nations lock in a healthy 2-3 year CT legacy as if by magic!
The whole deal is wired to please the Man or CEO Chick...just sign here!

Basically we are heading into France / EU - CT era > 2028 US / Hawaii
Only if Starkie / Don court Whiteshoe Star Line Anna...does Oz have a CT era.
Until then...Oz will appear in less & less line-ups to crack the CT as with this Sydney groundhog day.
Recap : Round 18 = 5 Le blowin French Surfers (vs) 4 Oz Surfers on Home Soil?
Better get used to it...that's our lot!

Can pretend tbb is just havin' a laugh...only all can clearly unravel this from year on year CS draws.
Be thankful tbb never shared the Comp Chart grid % that outed this caper...can do that...spew...Boring!
tbb was not gonna leave WSL CS Sydney Top 16 have the last laugh...It's fuckin' mental, is wot it is!
So we had to do all this shit just to show...Aussies are not at fault for weird arse Top 16 anomaly!

Rusty Roof's picture
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Rusty Roof Thursday, 25 May 2023 at 6:18am

That was like reading Captain Goodvibes