Australian surfer Sophie McCulloch wins the Haleiwa Challenger and snatches the last qualifying spot on the WSL Championship Tour

Australian surfer Sophie McCulloch has stunned the surfing world, winning the Haleiwa Challenger in the Hawaiian Islands and securing last place in next year’s World Surf League Championship Tour.

McCulloch entered the competition as a dark horse but managed to outperform reigning event champion Bettylou Sakura Johnson in a close contest. When Sakura Johnson’s brilliant ride fell just short of the perfect 10 she needed to win, the Australian grabbed the silverware.

WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Crazy scenes as Sophie McCulloch wins the Haleiwa Challenger.

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She will join the Top Tour, which kicks off in January at the Billabong Pipeline on Hawaii’s North Shore.

Speaking to media after the event, an enthusiastic McCulloch said she was proud to look ahead to the Championship Series next year after a “rough period”.

Sophie McCulloch celebrates winning the Haleiwa Challenger in Hawaii. Recognition: Getty Images

“I’m pretty proud of this moment,” she said.

“I lost the first heat in Brazil and definitely felt like I was taking a lot out of myself and my surfing and to recognize my strengths and do that I’m really proud of it.

‘Someone came and told me it wasn’t over so I was a little bit nervous after that but I just thought ‘I’m going to keep doing what’s working and I just wanted to give it my all and I knew I was going to do it’ t that would disappoint me, results aside.

“It added some nerve, but I’m really proud of my ability to regroup and just have the same intention.”

The Queenslander’s winning streak began with a quarterfinal win over Wong, an in-form South Africa’s Sarah Baum and Japan’s Amuro Tsuzuki. She won again in the semifinals against former WSL World Junior Champion Wong, USA’s Kirra Pinkerton and already confirmed CT qualifier and compatriot Molly Picklum.

“I gave it my all and it paid off and I have no words… I’m just in shock to be honest I’m freaking out. I think I’ll be back in January,” McCulloch said.

Sophie McCulloch with her trophy after winning the Haleiwa Challenger in Hawaii on December 2nd. Recognition: Getty Images

“I’m going to get a gath (surf helmet) and try to surf a pipe, which is amazing, so I might have to learn to get a tube on my butt.

“My mind is going crazy right now. I’m just so grateful to be here and I’m grateful for all the support from home and I’m so, so happy.”

Sophie McCulloch in action on the waves. Recognition: Damien Poullenot/Getty Images

Australian and men’s qualifier Liam O’Brien will also get his chance on the Championship Tour after being sidelined this year with injury.

Newcastle’s Ryan Callinan will also return to the Championship Tour after finishing second in the qualifying series.

– with AAP

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James Brien

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