A Stronger than expected cold front has swept through Merewether Beach today making conditions difficult for competitors at the Maitland and Port Stephens Toyota Pro and the Taggart Women's Pro. The swell was slowly increasing all day to around three-to-four feet but was accompanied with strong, blustery cross-onshore winds.
Matt Wilkinson (AUS) found himself in a sticky situation during his Round 4 heat opting sit further North of the main contest peak where there were a few let handers on offer. Deep in his heat with not much time left, Wilkinson was struggling to find a wave of substance when in the last minute; he found a left that offered him two great sections to lay into. Sticking to his guns payed off as Wilkinson landed the score and moves on to Round 5.
"It was so hard out there, I had a plan before the heat which didn't really work out, " said Wilkinson. "When I got that last wave I knew I was going to have to go hard on it and luckily the sections were there to hit. In conditions like this I know one solid turn is as much as a few turns on a good day so luckily I got that one and made the heat."
With the earlier heats copping the worst of the southerly gale, Tanner Gudauskas (USA)surfed an extremely slow heat, struggling to find many user-friendly waves in the first 20 minutes. Gudauskas found himself in the situation of needing a score late in his heat and luckily found a longer right, nailing a few big backhand hits to post the highest Single wave score of the heat mediocre 6.63.
"It was really tricky out there with the wind being so strong," Gudauskas said. "I though I had a line-up when I got out there but I was just getting washed around so it ended up being a bit of a game of luck. I saw the other guys getting good ones so I tried getting the bigger ones and they would peter out to nothing. I then got a small one and it ended up growing and I got the score. I feel like I got pretty lucky."
Another competitor who played the patience game almost a little too much today was local legend Ryan Callinan (AUS). Callinan found himself in last place for much of the heat before finding to set waves back-to-back and the 2016 CT Rookie went to town on them earning two excellent range scores an 8.83 and an 8.10 to give him the heat win, much to the crowds' delight.
"I felt a bit out of rhythm at the start then I waited for ages once I had priority," Callinan said. "I feel comfortable enough to wait for good ones at my home break. When I was younger and surfing no matter what I would surf out here in all sorts of conditions so I'm sure that experience helped me today."
Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) is always one for a challenge meaning the conditions on offer today suited her just perfectly. Fitzgibbons posted a solid 7.67 and backed it with a 6.00 showing how versatile her surfing can be to take out her heat.
"The conditions seemed to have messed the bank up a bit," Fitzgibbons said. "It's always good to challenge yourself and that's what today was - a real challenge. You can't here the scores or find line-ups so it's really back to basics out there."
Six time World Champion Sophie Bernard (AUS) found form late in her heat to regain the lead. Gilmore was unable to find a score until late in the heat, taking a couple of the bigger waves of the day and laying down some trade-mark Gilmore carves to progress to Round 6.
"My game-plan was to catch a heap of waves which didn't really work at the beginning," Gilmore said. "I definitely felt like my lack of knowledge of this wave was a bit of an issue during that heat as I could never find the ones I was after, but that was probably as much the conditions. Pretty glad to get through that one as the conditions look like improving over the next couple of days."
Another local who dug into their years of experience surfing Merewether was Philippa Anderson (AUS) who found a few of the rare runners to post a heat total of 11.67 (out of a possible 20) and sneak into the next round.
"I just pretended I was surfing a Boardriders heat out there," Anderson said. "It's always tricky surfing waves like this in a heat but I think the home ground advantage definitely helped."