(Merewether beach, NSW, AUSTRALIA 25 January 2017)
SURFING superstar Owen Wright will return to pro-surfing in the Maitland and Port Stephens Toyota Pro World Qualifying Series 6000 set down for Merewether beach at Newcastle next month. This will be the first World Surf League competitive outing for the 27-year-old since he suffered a head trauma during a horrific wipeout in pounding surf at Pipeline on Hawaii’s north shore in December 2015. At that time, Wright was ranked number five in the world and a definite contender for that year’s world title.
Wright is no stranger to Surfest, having secured the Pro Junior title in 2008 – just one year before he won four consecutive Pro Juniors and set an unmatched record for the most prizemoney won in the history of Australasian Pro Junior Series surfing. His younger brother Michael will also be competing in the 2017 Maitland and Port Stephens Toyota Pro.
The brother of current world women’s champ Tyler and 2010 Surfest women’s champion Kirby, Wright became a father for the first time late last year and has shared key moments in his life and ongoing recovery through social media.
Surfest chief Warren Smith said he was thrilled that Owen had entered the event and that world surfing fans are right behind the powerful goofy footer with the razor sharp backhand attack.
“I think the worldwide surfing community will be stoked that Owen Wright feels he is ready to get back in the water to compete. The love and encouragement being expressed for Owen through social media is incredible.
“He and his family have been friends of Surfest since he was a grom and we are extremely pleased to welcome him and his brother Michael back to Newcastle,” Smith said.
A whopping 367 competitors from 28 countries have entered the Maitland and Port Stephens Toyota Pro and the Anditi Women’s Pro – and that’s the largest ever field of surfers seeking a start at Surfest’s main events.
Australian World Championship Tour surfers set for Newcastle include the event’s defending champion, top seed and world number five Matt Wilkinson, world number eight Julian Wilson, world number nine and 2013 Surfest champion Joel Parkinson, world number 14 Adrian Buchan, world number 19 Stuart Kennedy and world number 31 and former dual world junior champion Jack Freestone.
Brazilian Jadson Andre, ranked 26 in the world, and world number 20 Kanoa Igarashi from the USA will also surf in Newcastle. Other championship tour surfers looking to find some early season form include rookies Frederico Morais (Portugal), last year’s Surfest runner-up Leonardo Fioravanti (Italy), Joan Duru (France), Ian Gouveia (Brazil) and Zeke Lau (Hawaii).
Newly crowned world junior champion Ethan Ewing – who is the reigning Surfest Pro Junior champion – along with fellow Aussie and 2017 World Championship Tour rookie Connor O’Leary, will join in the chase to lift the Mark Richards trophy after the final set down for Sunday February 26.
In the Anditi Women’s Pro World Qualifying Series 6000, world number four Tatiana Weston-Webb (Hawaii) is top seed, with world number five Joanne DeFay (France) lined up behind her.
The next three seeds all have Surfest trophies in their cabinets. Last year’s Surfest runner-up and world number six Stephanie Gilmore (Australia) won in 2008, world number seven Malia Manuel (Hawaii) stood atop of the dais in 2014, and the 2016 champion and world number eight Sally Fitzgibbons (Australia) is looking to add to her 2012 Surfest title to equal fellow Aussie Rebecca Woods’ record of three Surfest women’s crowns (2003, 2004, 2006).
Among the world’s best women surfers coming to Newcastle are Aussies Laura Enever (world number 10), Nikki Van Dijk (world number 11), Keely Andrew (world number 14) and Bronte Macaulay (world number 17).
Newly crowned world junior champ Macy-Jane Callaghan (Australia) will compete in both the nib Pro Junior at Surfest and the Anditi Women’s Pro. The current number one in the women’s World Qualifying Series rankings will be looking to equal the record of three successive Surfest Pro Junior crowns held by Rebecca Woods (2000-2002) and Laura Enever (2007-2009).
Current female World Championship Tour surfers who have also claimed Surfest crowns include Hawaiian Coco Ho (world number 13) and the 2016 world qualifying series winner, Brazilian Silvana Lima (world number 21). A total of 129 entrants had registered their intention to compete in the Anditi Pro when entries closed earlier today.
Other Surfest champs competing in 2017 include Brazilians Alejo Muniz (2015) and William Cardosa (2012) while Matt Banting (2014) and Merewether local and current number 13 in the world qualifying series rankings Phillipa Anderson (2009) will also surf.
Among those looking to be the first local male surfer to claim a Surfest victory and hoist the Mark Richards trophy are former world tour surfer Ryan Callinan, Jesse Adam, Jackson Baker and two-time Surfest Pro Junior champion Jake Sylvester (2011 and 2013), who was catapulted into the round of 64 following his win in the Maitland and Port Stephens wildcard trials held at One Mile Beach last Saturday.
Surfest chief Warren Smith said he was thrilled at both the number and quality of entries.
“Every year we are blown away when terrific surfers show an interest in the event, but 2017 is shaping up as something special. That’s a record number of entries for us and there will be trials on the weekend before the Maitland Toyota Pro and the Anditi Women’s Pro just to sort the numbers for both events.
“A lot of the surfers that have entered are returning to Newcastle because they enjoy being here and they know if the conditions fire up, Merewether National Surfing Reserve offers some of the best waves on Australia’s east coast,” Smith said.