Two-to-three-foot waves and light offshore winds greeted surfers on Day 3 of the Telstra Stores Tweed Coast Pro at Cabarita. Competition began to heat up as the event ventured deeper into the draw, seeing higher seed's and big names take to the water leaving 16 competitors in Women's Quarterfinals and Men's Round 6 by day's end.
Former World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour (CT) surfer Dion Atkinson (AUS) was the first competitor to lock himself a spot into Round 6. With his big frame and powerful rail surfing, the smaller soft conditions on offer didn't seem ideal for Atkinson until his first wave on which he scored a 9.00 (out of a possible 10) with his huge hacks and massive plumes of spray.
"The waves are a bit slow but it's still really fun," Atkinson said. "I had a shocker at Burleigh so it's good to get rid of a few early season jitters. This event is close to where I'm living at the moment so it was an easy decision to come here and try some boards, get back into the swing of surfing heats and hopefully build some confidence."
Hailing from San Diego, Taylor Clarke (USA) is no stranger to warmer water and smaller conditions. That comfort shined through in his Round 5 heat posting and excellent 8.00-point ride (out of a possible 10) with a number of big backhand turns that threw huge fans of spray skyward, Clarke progresses to Round 6.
"I hadn't surfed here at Cabarita until a few days ago so I'm still trying to work it out," Clarke said. "It's a really fun wave but I do prefer going left on my forehand so making heats going right is kind of cool for me, hopefully I can keep going."
An absolute Icon of not only Australian but global competitive surfing is North Narabeen's Nathan Hedge (AUS). Spending a number of years competing on the WSL Championship Tour (CT) and the QS, he is an experienced campaigner, a characteristic made obvious during his Round 5 heat. As low tide hit, the waves slowed but Hedge's experience was exhibited as he locked in two scores early in his heat.
"We had the bottom of the tide during that heat which made it important to take waves when they came because you never knew when the next set would come," Hedge said. "It's good to get out in the water with the contest jersey on. Supporting these events is really important, it was the lower rated events that helped me when I was young so it's good to get involved, especially for the young guys and girls coming up."
Local wildcard Chris "Chippa" Wilson (AUS) hasn't competed in a Qualifying Series (QS) event in years but is known as one of the most technical aerial surfers on the planet, meaning anything could have happened in this event. Wilson made it through his early heat but just came short of making it through to Round 6.
"That was a cool experience," Wilson said. "I know nothing about competing either but having that priority system is cool, it takes the hassle out which I like, if that was a freesurf at that size I would have caught one wave in three hours. I was keen to do airs but never got the right wave, I hope if I do this sort of thing again I can do a few punts."
Kirra-Belle Olsson (AUS) was thrown in the deep end in her Round 3 heat when she came up against former CT surfer Dimity Stoyle and QS form surfer Maud Le Car. Olsson blocked out any pressure this may have put on her locking in the highest single-wave score of the round a 9.15 to solidify herself a spot in the Quarterfinals.
"I just pretend I'm freesurfing and don't think about who's in my heat," Olsson said. "Once I locked in those early scores I just tried to have fun. I surf my best when I'm having fun which is why I scored that 9.00."
Fresh off becoming the WSL World Junior Champion, Sunshine Coaster Isabella Nichols (AUS) looked confident in her Round 3 heat. Nichols stayed patient in what was a quiet heat, posting a heat total of 13.25 with methodical surfing Nichols Progresses to the Quarterfinals.
I didn't really know where to sit out there, it's a bit of a lucky dip," Nicholls said. "Coming into this event after winning the Junior Championships gives me a little confidence in my own surfing but at the same time everyone here rips and I know I have to be surfing my best to make heats in any of the QS events."