Trial triumphs: Former Pro wildcards speak on huge opportunity for locals

March 29, 2024 BY

L-R: Local surfers and previous Rip Curl Pro Wildcards Tully Wylie and Xavier Huxtable at Winki Pop overlooking Bells Beach. Photo: VINNIE VAN OORSCHOT

The Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach is the most exciting opportunity of the year for local surfers, but only a select few get to compete in the event as a wildcard.

Alongside the World Surfing League’s (WSL) Championship Tour athlete pool, one male and one female are granted entry to the competition each year through the Rip Curl Pro Trials, putting Victorian surfers into the lineup of the world’s longest running surf event – a process that has been in place for more than 20 years.

Past trial winners and Surf Coast locals Tully Wylie and Xavier Huxtable know what it feels like, earning wildcard spots in 2022 and 2023 respectively, and Wylie again last week.

“Every year when the Rip Curl Pro comes together, it’s just the best couple of weeks for the whole year, I think,” Wylie said.

“Everyone gets together to watch the best surfers in the world surfing our home break, and then for some of our local surfers to get a chance to potentially get into the Pro is something you only think about as a kid.

“Watching the older crew, it’s something you dream about, and Xav and I are both really lucky to have gotten that chance to be in the event, which is pretty cool.”


L-R: Xavier Huxtable and Tully Wylie have paddled out at Bells Beach against the world’s best. Photo: VINNIE VAN OORSCHOT


Wylie claimed the Rip Curl Pro wildcard spot in 2022 over his close mate and fellow Torquay Boardriders surfer Huxtable, saying at the time he was in a “state of disbelief”. He replicated that effort with a Trials win last Saturday to earn his second Rip Curl Pro card.

A year after 2022, Huxtable won the 2023 trials event, becoming a wildcard for a second time in his surfing career.

Huxtable turned heads at last year’s Rip Curl Pro, finishing second in his opening round heat behind fellow Aussie Jack Robinson, who he would then defeat in the Round of 32 with a score of 13.43.


Tully Wylie following his Rip Curl Pro Trials win in 2022 and again in 2024. Photo: LIAM ROBERTSON/SURFING VICTORIA


His dream run ended in the Round of 16 to Japanese surfer Connor O’Leary, but the Jan Juc resident said it was a dream come true to compete against the best.

“It was a pretty crazy experience to win the trials, because we have so many good surfers. It’s generally pretty tough to win with the short heats.

“For anyone who gets in though, it’s just such an exciting opportunity to represent the town, the community, hopefully do well and get amongst the best surfers in the world.

“At the end of the day, we just want to show what we can do in the surf.”

At least five Torquay Boardriders competed in this year’s trials event – held on March 23 – including Wylie and Huxtable.

Torquay young gun and former ISA World Junior champion Willis Droomer also was part of the proceedings, as were Australian Boardriders Battle Torquay athlete Todd Rosewall and emerging female talent Ellie Harrison.

As the trials format stands (four athletes per heat), the male bracket features 16 Victorian surfers all vying for the one wildcard spot, with another 16 Victorians competing for the female wildcard.


Xavier Huxtable is chaired off Bells Beach after winning the 2023 Rip Curl Pro Trials – Wylie can be seen to his left. Photo: STEVE ROBERTSON


However, the women must defeat the four top-seeded Australian Rip Curl surfers waiting in the semi-finals, meaning they must also compete in an additional fourth round to win the event.

“It is a little unfortunate for the local surfers to come up against crew who aren’t actually from here,” Wylie said.

“So, it’d be cool to see in the future the local girls competing against other locals only, rather than going up against some of the top Rip Curl athletes in Australia, but it is what it is.”

A local wildcard has never won the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach. Adam Robertson – now chief executive officer at Surfing Victoria – came the closest to accomplishing that feat in 2009 but lost in the final to Joel Parkinson.