The World Surf League (WSL) Qualifying Series (QS) has returned to Merewether for the first time since 2020 for the opening day of the Newcastle Surfest QS 5000. Day 1 of competition saw Round 1 of the City of Newcastle Pro men’s event along with the opening 8 heats of the AAP Consulting Women’s Pro run in bumpy two-to-three foot surf.
Former CT competitor Soli Bailey planned to take 2022 off form competing with the exception of the Surfest Wandiyali Indigenous competition which he ended up winning. With the win, Bailey received a wildcard into the opening round of the City of Newcastle Pro and once again found himself donning a WSL contest jersey. Although his plan is to step away from competing for the year, the competitiveness was still evident in the Byron Bay surfer as he put on a clinic to progress into the Round of 64 at Merewether.
“I never planned on quitting comps for ever, I just wanted to enjoy a year of free surfing and chasing swells and working on film projects with my sponsor and just enjoying surfing for what it is,” Bailey said. “I did plan on coming and doing the indigenous event here and was fortunate enough to win it which got me a wildcard into this event. I do love competing a lot and maybe I can shake up the CS qualification race a bit. If I did end up winning it and made the cut, then I could surf Snapper with no one out which would be cool.”
Another competitor with a strong passion for competition is former CT competitor Nathan Hedge. Hedgey, has been competing at Surfest for over 20 years and today his experience showed, as he put on a solid display of backside surfing in the peaky beach-breaks to take the win as he looks to keep his competitive fire burning whilst imparting his knowledge on the next generation of Aussie competitors.
“I’ve been coming up here since I was in high school so it’s a really special place for me,” Hedge said. “I’ve had a second and a third here so have had some success too – lots of good memories from this place. Competing here with my family watching and coming up with my mum and dad — it’s just a great town with great people. I love having the opportunity to compete still and make a few heats because I still have so much competitive fire in me, but I also love being able to share a few pearls of wisdom with the crew who are just starting their journey. It’s a win win for me.”
Former CT competitor Paige Hareb has only just returned to competing on the Qualifying Series after a couple of years off due to the pandemic and it hasn’t been the dream start she’d hoped for. After three back-to-back early round eliminations, The New Zealander is hoping that today’ form at Merewether might be a sign of things to come. The powerful goofy-footer surfed a smart heat to overcome 2022 form surfer Ellie Harrison as she looks to go deep at Surfest and lock in a spot on the 2022 Challenger Series.
“There were some really fun waves out there which is always nice in a heat,” Hareb said. “I have had a shocking start to the year so far after not competing on the QS for a couple of years so a win like that is definitely good for my confidence. It’s good to be back in Newcastle, I’ve been coming here forever and have good memories so I hope to keep them coming this week.”
After injuring her back at the Central Coast event, Keely Andrew showed no signs of slowing down last week at Cabarita, chalking up an equal third place finish and her best result of the year so far. Today, still feeling a little ginger, Andrew once again displayed infinite courage as she cruised her way to an opening round heat win with an awesome display of frontside rail surfing at an event that is close to her heart here in Newcastle.
“I’ve been coming here for over a decade now which sounds crazy,” Andrew said. “It’s a great event that always delivers all sorts of conditions but never a lack of waves. Newcastle almost feels like a second home for me. You always know what to expect when coming to Newy. I’ve got a bit of a sore back but it’s not too bad, I’ve got a good team looking after me so I just need to get through this one. The pain kind of went away after getting that first wave.”
The 2022 City of Newcastle Pro and AAP Consulting Women’s Pro as part of Newcastle Surfest will run from March 28 – April 3. Newcastle Surfest couldn’t happen without the support of The City of Newcastle, AAP Consulting, Burton Automotive, Destination NSW
Pic: Soli Bailey by Paul Danovaro