Joel Vaughan and Ellie Harrison finish top at 2024 Surfest

Defending Surfest champ Joel Vaughan (AUS) and Ellie Harrison (AUS) claimed victory at the Burton Automotive Pro & Newcastle Racecourse Women’s Pro World Surf League (WSL) Qualifying Series (QS) 5000, the co-sanctioned final event of the season for the Asia and Australia / Oceania QS regions.
A stormy morning gave way to a stunning day as the two-to-four-foot surf cleaned up and provided endlessly rippable sections to determine final QS rankings and 2024 Challenger Series qualifiers.

Runner-up finishes for Winter Vincent (AUS) and Saffi Vette (NZL) delivered both surfers the best results of their careers and were enough to see them jump multiple places in the rankings to earn a place on the Challenger Series for the very first time.

For the two event winners, Joel Vaughan (AUS) and Ellie Harrison (AUS), the victories boosted them into the No. 1 position on the Australia / Oceania region QS rankings, allowing them to claim the respective regional titles for the season. Meanwhile, the final results solidified Asia region QS titles for Sara Wakita (JPN) and Kian Martin (SWE).

A dominant performance from 2023 winner Joel Vaughan (AUS) saw the Central Coast surfer claim the honour of being the first man to win SURFEST back-to-back in its 38 year history.

Vaughan Becomes First Ever Male to Win SURFEST Back-to-Back

Defending champion Joel Vaughan (AUS) became the first man to win the trophy back-to-back in the 38-year history of the iconic SURFEST event. Posting some of the competition’s highest scores every time he hit the water, Vaughan delivered an absolute highlight reel once again on Finals Day to take both the event win and the Australia / Oceania regional title.

“I’m pretty stoked to be the first male to win back-to-back,” Vaughan said. “I was actually walking past the names all week and I was pretty stoked to see my name up there, and I’ll be stoked to see it up there again next year. To win the regional QS series was definitely a goal of mine. I did the calculations last night and I knew if I got second I wouldn’t have won. I was thinking about that all Final actually and I’m really happy to have taken it out.”

Having opened both his Quarterfinal and Semifinal with a 9.70 on his first wave, the 8.00 Vaughan earned on his second wave in the Final for a speedy air reverse was tame in comparison. Leaving the door open till the last second for Winter Vincent (AUS), whose dynamic two-turn backhand combo had earned him a 7.17, Vaughan closed out the heat in dominant fashion. With 15 seconds remaining on the clock, the 20-year-old ulitised his priority to block Vincent, turning it into a victory lap in the process by launching into yet another giant air reverse and posting an 8.60 to lock down his historic second SURFEST victory.

Vincent Pushes Straight Into the Next Tier in First Year on QS

For the second year in a row an up-and-coming surfer from Manly has experienced a dream run at SURFEST to qualify for the Challenger Series. In 2023 it was George Pittar (AUS) and in 2024 it is Winter Vincent (AUS). In his first season competing on the QS, Vincent knocked out big names to climb the rankings and push straight into the next tier. Needing to make the Final to qualify, the 19-year-old did just that, defeating Mikey McDonagh(AUS) and Riaru Ito (JPN) in the process.

“I’m over the moon,” Vincent said. “I did not expect (to qualify for the Challenger Series) coming into this comp and I just kept going and had a few people in my corner and yeah, got it done. I had Julian Wilson in my corner all event and I feel like his experience helped me get through to the Final and do some of my best surfing.”

Harrison Powers Through to Achieve Her Goal

Having already requalified herself for the Challenger Series from her 2023 rankings, Ellie Harrison (AUS) had one goal on her mind coming into the event – to win SURFEST – and that is precisely what the 18-year-old achieved. The winner of the 2022 Lake Mac City Pro Junior, which is also a part of SURFEST, Harrison stepped up to take the big event win, her second at the QS level and first QS 5000.

“I feel amazing, this event is so prestigious,” Harrison said. “So many of my idols have won. I’m grateful for everyone who runs this event and everyone who supports me. Going into this week I was pretty exhausted from the ABB (Australian Boardriders Battle). It was a big weekend up there but I still had my goal and just took it day-by-day. There was a few days that I wasn’t on, so I just tried to keep my energy and keep surfing. It’s a huge confidence boost.”

Utilising her powerful forehand to devastating effect, the Victorian peaked in the Final, earning her best numbers of the event when it mattered most. A 7.83 for a combination of a huge opening carve into an aggressive layback on the end section, backed up with a 6.33, left Saffi Vette (NZL) chasing an 8.39. Late in the Final, Vette was able to find a 5.77 for a single critical turn, but was unable to tap into the magic of earlier heats that saw her take down two WSL Championship Tour (CT) veterans, Bronte Macaulay (AUS) and Nikki Van Dijk (AUS)

Vette Shocks Herself, Qualifying for Challenger Series and Olympics in the Same Season

Qualifying for the Challenger Series and the Olympics in the same season has been both a huge confidence boost and a shock for Saffi Vette (NZL). The 22-year-old has slowly risen in the QS ranks over a few years, but a win in the 2023 Mad Mex Maroubra Pro QS 1000 turned the tide. Having all but counted out the possibility of qualifying for the Challenger Series, the two big heat wins today over Macaulay and Van Dijk were massive for the Kiwi’s competitive future.

“Honestly, I was going into these last two events in 16th I think,” Vette said. “So the fact that I’ve climbed this far is crazy to me. I get really emotional about it but it’s been a hard few years and I’m really stoked that my hard work is paying off. I’m just really happy.”

All Challenger Series Qualifiers for Australia / Oceania Region Locked In

The conclusion of the event saw all Challenger Series qualifiers for the Australia / Oceania region decided. With Ellie Harrison (AUS) already qualified, Paige Hareb (NZL), Philippa Anderson (AUS), Rosie Smart (AUS) and Saffi Vette (NZL) were the four women to progress to the next tier, a return for Hareb and Anderson, and the first opportunity for Smart and Vette.

On the men’s side, Joel Vaughan (AUS), Dakoda Walters (AUS), Alister Reginato (AUS), Jarvis Earle (AUS), Tully Wylie (AUS), Oscar Berry (AUS) and Winter Vincent (AUS) were the seven qualifiers. Of those, it will be the first season on the Challenger Series for Walters, Wylie, Berry and Vincent. Newcastle’s Morgan Cibilic (AUS) finished fifth on the rankings, but his double-qualification allowed Vincent to gain his spot.

Wildcards will also be allocated for a male and female, respectively, from both Australia / Oceania and Asia, allowing those four surfers to join each of the qualified surfers from their regions.

The 2024 Burton Automotive Pro & Newcastle Racecourse Women’s Pro QS 5000 ran from March 11 – 17, 2024.