At an infamous and deadly surf break on the island of Hawaii, the world’s best surfers are this week gathering to start the 2023 World Surf League Championship Tour.
At just 20 years old, professional surfer Molly Picklum, from the NSW Central Coast, is among them.
The event at Pipeline marks another opportunity for the youngster to make her mark on the tour, after winning the invitation-only Vans Pipe Masters event at the same beach late last year.
Picklum has been described as “leading the charge in the next generation of surfers”.
The up-and-coming star is also being touted as a contender to qualify for the Olympics — with the top eight women from the WSL Championship Tour entitled to a spot at the 2024 Games, hosted by France.
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Thirty-six men and 18 women will battle it out on the world tour, with the finals set to be held in southern California in September.
Picklum will join six other Australian surfing legends on the tour, including former world title winners Stephanie Gilmore and Tyler Wright.
Picklum said having the Olympic spots up for grabs was a huge motivator.
“I definitely would love a gold medal but I do know that there’s a process,” she said.
“I feel like my abilities can get me there but let’s just see how the year pans out a little bit.”
Retired professional surfer Amee Donohoe said there was a lot hanging on this tour for Picklum, who began surfing on the Central Coast when she was three years old.
“Molly is a contender right now to be in the Olympic team depending on how she goes this year on tour,” she said.
“She’s definitely leading the charge in the next generation of surfers coming through.”
Ms Donohoe said Picklum’s win at the Vans Pipe Masters last year solidified her place as one of the best surfers in the world. She was the first non-Hawaiian to win the event.
“She’s going to go down in history for that forever,” she said.
“People die at pipeline. That is a reality.”
“When you’re pushing yourself into a wave of that size, it’s a split-second mistake that can make the difference between you getting the ride of your life or the wipe-out of your life.”
Inspiring the younger generation
Picklum’s local surf spot is at Shelly Beach on the NSW Central Coast.
The beach is soon set to host a new female surfing event, which aims to foster and encourage younger female surfers.
Tahlia Hirst is among the young locals gearing up for Surfing NSW’s Challenge Her Team Classic at Shelly Beach in March.
She said female athletes such as Picklum were an inspiration.
“It’s so good for all us younger girls to see that it is possible and that girls from these beaches have done it and made it to the world stage,” she said.
“It’s just really good to have that to look up to.”
The WSL Championship tour kicks off at the world-renowned Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii on January 30, local time.