Newcastle NSW, Australia (Saturday, February 27, 2016): As yesterday’s blustery southerly change began to subside, the forecasted large swell finally arrived at Merewether Beach for the second to last day of the Maitland and Port Stephens Pro and Taggart Women’s Pro as part of Newcastle Surfest.
The hangover from yesterday’s cold front was most prominent in the earliest heats of the day. World No. 3 Sally Fitzgibbons came up in Heat 3 and was very aware of the challenge she would be facing in finding the right waves to score on. Fitzgibbons’ experience and skill prevailed, as she was able to find a number of left and right-handers in the peaky five-to-six foot waves.
“It was pretty hard out there today, a real chess match of a heat,” Fitzgibbons said. “When the waves are like that you have to be so strategic in how you surf the heat. I found the biggest challenge to be getting two decent scores in the 30 minutes as it was a lot of work to get back out and find the spot. I’m really stoked to get through to the Quarters, I can’t wait to get out there tomorrow.”
Proving that conditions couldn’t have been too challenging was Six times world Champion Stephanie Gilmore who scored a near perfect 9.90 (out of a possible 10) to book herself a spot in the Quarterfinals. Gilmore opted to sit further North of where other competitors were surfing and was able to find one of the bigger right-handers to come through during her heat. Gilmore displayed huge commitment through a number of big carving turns, which the judges rewarded her for.
“I got out really early in that heat and saw a few good rights a bit further up from where everyone else was sitting so though I’d se how I go there,” Gilmore said. “Once the heat started nothing was really happening there then luckily one popped up and I was in the spot. It was one of the better ones I saw out there this morning and it felt like I surfed it well.”
The final heat to decide the last of the Women’s Quarter finalists was a big one with the reigning World Junior Champion Isabella Nicholls coming up against 2015 Women’s Championship Tour Rookie standout Tatiana Weston-Webb (HAW). Weston-Webb’s experience shone through waiting patiently for the bigger set waves and posting a modest heat total of 13.90 with a great display of power surfing. Nicholls was unable to find a substantial score and was eliminated from the event.
“It was really hard work out there,” Weston-Webb said. “I spent a lot of time watching the waves before my heat so had a pretty good idea of what I was looking for. I knew if I could get two half-decent turns in out the back I would get a score so I made sure I got waves that would offer that for me.”
After surfing in one of the first heats yesterday during the peak of the storm, Championship Tour (CT) Matt Wilkinson was pleased to have bigger cleaner surf during his heat today. Wilkinson mixed it up going left and right to score a heat total of 13.33 to progress to the Quarterfinals.
“It’s so nice getting waves with a bit more power today,” Wilkinson said. “It still is pretty hard work but it’s really fun having big sections to hit. I didn’t get any really good ones but if you find one with two big section you could definitely post a big score.”
Finding big sections to post big scores is exactly what Connor O’Leary did in Heat 2 of Round 5. O’Leary looked unstoppable taking two set rights nailing turn after turn earning himself a 9.57 and an 8.00 along with a spot in the finals.
“I was lucky to get those two rights as I was actually looking to go left,” O’Leary said. “Both of those waves popped up out of no-where so I definitely feel lucky. Posting a couple of scores like that is good to build confidence, knowing I can do that takes some pressure off of me before surfing in the Quarterfinals.”
After starting his year off with a win at the Shoe City Pro at Huntington Beach, former CT competitor Patrick Gudauskas looked to be continuing his good form through the contest at Merewether. However the young Californian found himself in second position, only needing a small score with seconds remaining. Gudauskas scratched into a smaller inside wave on the buzzer to post a 4.70 and move one step closer to making it two contest wins in a row.
“I knew I needed a score of some sort just not what score,” Gudauskas said. “So when I finished that wave and heard a few cheers I knew it was going to be close – stoked I got that wave. This is my first time back in this event for a few years and I have always loved coming here so to make it to the finals is sick.”