WSL star Molly Picklum discusses falling off and rejoining the World Tour
From losing her place on the Championship Tour to re-qualifying and winning Pipe Masters, 2022 was a rollercoaster for Australian surfer Molly Picklum – watch the film here.
“I had to hit rock bottom to learn to take it easy and I wouldn’t change it for the world,” says Molly Picklum. Soon after qualifying for the WSL’s Championship Tour the Australian surfer fell victim to its recently implemented and highly controversial mid-season cut and was relegated to the Challenger Series she’d only recently graduated from.
Picklum is a fascinating study; the powerful natural footer with a bright future is, by her own admission, an over-thinker, and her drive to succeed can sometimes be the one thing getting in her way.
In the film Molly Picklum: What It Takes, we look inside the mind of the 20-year-old from the Central Coast of New South Wales as she navigates a tumultuous rookie year on tour. Fresh off the high of qualifying, Picklum headed to Hawaii and put the world on notice with her performances at Pipe and Sunset. However, despite plenty of highlight reel moments by the time the mid-year cut came into play at Margaret River, things looked decidedly dicey.
I had to hit rock bottom to learn to take it easy, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
While most might see being demoted back to the Challenger Series as a kick in the teeth, Picklum turned it into the motivation she needed to click her career into gear. Initially, it wasn’t easy, and we see Picklum's most uncertain moments from close quarters, but with coach and mentor Glenn Hall as her sounding board, we see the wheel slowly turn.
Picklum’s darkest days in South Africa lead to a watershed moment of letting go, and success soon followed with a big win in Ballito that set her straight back on the path to eventual requalification in Brazil.
A trip of a lifetime
“I didn’t get the result I was after in the event in Brazil,” explains Picklum. “But I’m still glad I went. I regrouped and realised there was great weather, fun waves, beach tennis to be played and a really fun crew around me, so I decided I had to make the most of it. Plus it’s a tour stop, so every bit of practice counts.
"Best of all though, my place on the 2023 Championship Tour was locked-in while I was there, so after that, I knew I could go to Hawaii with no pressure. It was almost a holiday in that sense, not that you’d ever call it that.
“After Brazil I came home for a very quick five days, then went to Hawaii for one of the more memorable trips of my life. I landed and was focused on just surfing, rather than the contests. I felt good at Haleiwa but never found good waves in my heats. I was completely out of sync with the sets in my semi-final and bowed out, but it was still great to put in the reps.
"Then to be there and see Sophie McCulloch qualify by winning the event was crazy. She came from so far back, at the start of the day we didn’t even know she still had a chance. Every Aussie there ran down the beach just screaming in disbelief, she came from nowhere and boom. That’s the Hollywood way of doing it, the stuff dreams are made of. Sophie’s qualification seemed a lot sweeter than mine, even though mine was a lot less stressful, that’s for sure."
She adds: “A week into my trip I got a text saying there was a spot for me at Pipe Masters. I’d gone to Hawaii early to train, then planned on coming home to cruise and recuperate after a big year. When the invite landed it was a non-negotiable though, and I changed my flights on the spot. Originally Pipe was meant to be three one-hour heats, which is so much time to practice out there, but the conditions meant it didn’t run until right at the end of the period, so things changed a little.
"I surfed purely to practice at Pipe, read the reef and learn more information about the wave. I wanted to try to enjoy it, which I really did. I felt like I got way more comfortable out there, and all in all, I’m glad I accepted the invitation because it panned out really well and I ended up taking the win.”
A historic moment for women's surfing
While the trip was a memorable one for Picklum, it also provided the women's tour with a chance to showcase their ability to tackle the most intimidating waves.
“All the girls knew it was a good opportunity to try and push women’s surfing as a collective," says Picklum. "On the big day everyone was shitting themselves, but we had to push it and dig deep. Going out there and putting on a brave face would have done a lot without us even catching waves, but when we did paddle out, then suck it up and go for it I think every female surfer grew as a result.
“Carissa Moore’s incredible wave was the turning point. She was in the first heat, and most of us were just thinking of self-preservation and trying to catch waves without dying. Then she got that and it meant we were all suddenly going out there trying to get barrelled. It changed everything.
"What a statement for Carissa. She’s put the time in, she’s really good out there and that was a really historic moment in surfing. I think every female who was out there grew ten times more confident at Pipe as a result of this event.”
A wild ride
Having had the chance to reflect on a crazy 2022, Picklum believes that it has only made her stronger and is now feeling much more relaxed as she attempts to start the new year in style.
“It’s fair to say 2022 was a wild ride. I’ve had some of my lowest lows and highest highs," says Picklum. "I feel like everything that happened was for a reason and has got me to where I am today so I wouldn't change a thing. I’m pretty excited to keep giving this whole surfing thing a big crack.
I want to chase world titles, and I believe they’re on my radar if things go my way
“My goals don’t change much, I just want to see how good I can get. I want to chase world titles, and I believe they’re on my radar if things go my way. I need to jam my foot in the door, keep going where I’m going and see what comes of it. 2023 is the Olympic qualifying year, and every surfer on tour wants to be making that, the same way they all want to win events and titles, but all I can control is whatever I’m given.
“I’m driven, that’s not an issue, and obviously I want to make the final five at Trestles and give it a good crack, but all-in-all my main goal is just to give it everything I’ve got in every moment I get. If I do that, I’m happy, and the rest will follow on from there.
“I’m in Hawaii now for the first event of the new season. I’m not fired up to make a statement or anything like that, I’m more excited that I’m comfortable, in a groove and ready to start my year in style. I feel like I’ve set myself up really well, and that’s what matters most.”