Interview: Deep dive into Liam O’Brien’s rollercoaster first year on the Championship Tour

Published on 04/09/2023

Liam O’Brien’s (also commonly known as LOB) arrival on the 2022 Championship Tour (CT) was one of the unluckiest starts to professional surfing, breaking his leg at Pipe in Hawaii just hours before his CT debut. In the blink of an eye, his lifelong goal to compete on the CT and his rookie year slipped through his fingers.

Despite the major setback, the Burleigh local stormed his way back in the latter half of the year to requalify for the 2023 CT for another shot at his rookie year. Liam ended up finishing in the top 20, requalifying for the 2024 CT and proving he’s a force to be reckoned with.

We sat down and had a chat with LOB and asked all our burning questions.

Q: You’ve just completed your first year on Tour and finished 17th overall. Congratulations on this result and for requalifying for the 2024 Tour. Can you tell us what some of your highlights of the 2023 CT Tour were?

Liam: Thanks very much. It was pretty surreal getting to live out my lifelong dream and surf on the CT so the whole thing was a bit of a highlight. Surfing really good Jbay with one other person out was definitely right up there on the list though. It’s such a magical location and to have your pick of the lineup seemed too good to be true.

Q: Hot topic… what are your thoughts on the mid-season cut and the final five?

Liam: The cut is pretty rough as an athlete but as a spectator it adds some more excitement to those early events in the year. I think it could work pretty well if it was at least two events later on the calendar just to give everyone a bit more of a fair chance. The final 5 is cool. Whilst it might not be necessarily crowning the most deserving world champion every year, it’s still an awesome spectacle to see the entire year boil down to one day of competition.
I’d love to see them take it a step further and turn it into a search event or something. Would be epic to see it happen at a different location every year.

Q: Mentally and physically, we know how tough injuries can be. In 2022, to qualify for the WSL CT and then to injure yourself free surfing at Pipe right before the first event, we can imagine this took a toll. How did you manage to stay positive during this time and what did you do to keep yourself occupied and focussed on your comeback?

Liam: It was tough to get injured at such a crucial point in my career. Getting on tour felt like such a long time in the making and was taken away so quickly. I was dejected at first but once I got home I was just really driven to get back in the water ASAP. As a result, I got right into my rehab and training and took satisfaction from getting little gains in the gym every day. This helped me stay positive as well as getting in the water in different ways like body boarding, swimming and eventually riding a foamie. It was an awesome feeling when I started to surf properly again.

Image via @liamobr_

Q: You achieved your best result at the Surf City El Salvador Pro – third place. Would you credit this result to the similarities to your home break, Burleigh Point?

Liam: Absolutely. The wave has an uncanny resemblance to the rocky at Burleigh so it wasn’t too hard to get comfortable out there. Although I’ve never made more than a heat at Burleigh in a QS, so it was nice that trait didn’t carry over.

Q: What’s your plan for the off-season? Any surf trips planned?

Liam: I’m looking forward to staying put and spending some time with friends and family.

Q: Tell us about your studies? How do you find balancing life as a professional athlete and a university student?

Liam: I’ve deferred my studies for the moment, so I’ve let the scales tip completely in surfing’s favour haha. It’s possible with some hard work and discipline though. Surfers like Isabella Nichols and Sophie Mcculloch are good examples. I’m a bit slack but would still encourage anyone with a penchant for academia to pursue their studies as well as surfing.

Q: Any tips for up-and-coming surfers that are currently following the pathway to hopefully one day qualify for the World Tour?

Liam: Work hard, have fun and don’t get too ahead of yourself. If you’re getting to travel and surf at any level you’ve already made it.

Q: If you could only have one wave and one manoeuvre for the rest of your life, what are they going to be?

Liam: I could live on barrels for the rest of my life. As for one spot, that’s a tricky question. I’d probably have to say here on the goldy though. It’s pretty special when it’s on.

Liam looking comfortable at Teahupo’o. Image by @paullavoine


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