The Anonymous Contender

Admit it: Before Connor O’Leary blitzed the World Qualifying Series in 2016 — winning the whole damn thing and qualifying for the World Tour — you had no idea who he was. And that’s OK. Neither did we.

The half-Irish, half-Japanese goofyfoot from Cronulla, Australia, has always flown under the radar. He never won a junior championship title — hell, he never even qualified to compete for one — he’s never had a six-figure contract and he’s never been hailed as “the next big thing” by pro-surf pundits.

So when he won the Qualifying Series (QS), besting a highly touted group of World Tour qualifiers that included Leonardo Fioravanti, Ezekiel Lau, Ethan Ewing and Frederico Morais, a lot of people (us included) asked, “Connor … who?”

But even if you didn’t know O’Leary by name, you couldn’t deny his obvious merits on a surfboard. His tack-sharp backside attack and clinical frontside rail work turned heads from the very start of the 2017 World Tour season. O’Leary earned a quarterfinal finish at the Quik Pro Gold Coast, followed by a second-place result at the Outerknown Fiji Pro, which marked only his fifth appearance in an elite-level event. As of press time, he sits in 15th place overall, with two events to go. Considering the likelihood of him finishing the season as Rookie of the Year,

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