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Sylvester and Kelly Win Wildcards into 2017 Surfest

Jake Sylvester advancing at his hometown event the Burton Automotive Pro, Surfest, Newcastle, Australia Jake Sylvester was once a full-time QS competitor who will now only compete at his local event, and boy does he make it worthwhile. WSL / WSL/Will H-S

Merewether surfer Jake Sylvester can be sure of huge support when he hits the water at his home break in the round of 96 in next month's Maitland and Port Stephens Toyota Pro world qualifying series 6000 event.

The 23-year-old part-time Lake Macquarie and Port Stephens lifeguard and University of Newcastle student, excelled in the 1.5-2m left handers on offer at One Mile Beach today and showed a consistently on-song backhand attack to claim the final from James McMorland, Nick Callister and Ty Watson.

Sylvester, who made it to the quarter-finals at Surfest's main event on 2014, said he had been surfing well consistently while free from the pressure that the competition rashie brings.

"This is the first time I have competed in over 12 months. I knew I could do well, but I'm actually pretty surprised I got the win today against some of these guys who are surfing so well.

"Now I've got the win I am going to do everything I can to try and go better than the quarter-finals," he said.

And he'll need to do well to progress that far in the Maitland and Port Stephens Toyota Pro, given the calibre of surfers lining up for the early season QS points on offer.

While entries don't close officially for that event for another couple of days, well over 200 surfers from around the globe have already indicated they want the opportunity to hoist the Mark Richards trophy on the winner's dais.

Sylvester is well aware that no local surfer has ever had that honour in the men's division at Surfest.

Jake Sylvester (AUS/Newcastle) finished his Burton Toyota Pro campaign by placing equal 9th overall after he was eliminated in his round 5 heat by Charles Martin (Guadalope). For 21-year-old Sylvester it was a strong result earning excellent ASP World Qualifying points which potentially allows him to surf more events across the globe on the ASP World Tour. In 2014, Sylvester made it all the way to the Quarterfinals at Surfest. WSL / Steve Robertson

In the women's division today, Zahli Kelly showed class beyond her years to seal victory in the final from reigning Australian Open women's champion Alyssa Lock, Elle Clayton Brown and Danielle Hancock.

Kelly, the 2016 Queensland Open state title champion - who is coached by dual world junior champion James 'Taipan' Wood - said she was "amazed" she will be surfing against some of her heroes in next month's Anditi Women's Pro at Merewether Beach as part of the 2017 Surfest Newcastle Australia.

Zahli Kelly winning Heat 7 of Round 1 at the Subway Surf Series Pro Junior at Cronulla. At just 13 years of age, Zahli Kelly will be surfing in an event that last year saw a final showdown between Stephanie Gilmore and Sally Fitzgibbons. WSL / Ethan Smith

"It seems crazy that I'll be in the round of 48 in a QS 6000. Mum and Dad were so happy - they didn't expect me to win it today," the surfer from the Cabarita Board Rider's club said.

Kelly, who names Philippe Toledo and Silvana Lima as her favourite surfers and maths as her favourite school subject, says that in the future she "wouldn't mind being a physio or something where you can still be part of the surfing industry."

Given her performance today and that she is just 13-years-old, Kelly may well be laying the seeds for a career in the water rather than out of it. She will next surf in the Subway Pro Junior at Cronulla on Monday.

Zahli Kelly Kelly will have a busy time in Newcastle surfing in the QS and the JQS events that are part of Surfest. WSL / Bennett
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