Another huge day is in the books at Merewether Beach, where Round Three of the Maitland and Port Stephens Toyota Pro wrapped up, while 10 heats out of 12 from Round Three ran at the Anditi Women's Pro. Competitors went to work in the 2-to 3-foot, wind-affected waves in Newcastle.
Brazilian aerial phenomenon Yago Dora is better known for his incredible video parts and free surfing antics than he is for making heats. The young goofyfooter is keen to turn that around in 2017, and to focus more on posting solid results on the Qualifying Series (QS) than on filming video parts. He started off on the right foot today, narrowly progressing through Round Three with a good mix of power-surfing and airs.
"That was scary at the end," Dora said. "I couldn't find a backup for the whole heat so I could have lost at any minute. I feel like I got lucky out there. The last few years I have been really focused on doing trips and filming for movies and not really competition. This year I want to change that and compete and have a go at qualifying."
Alejo Muniz, who won this event in 2015, also put on a solid performance Thursday. After a knee injury sidelined him from the Championship Tour (CT), he's healthy again and back in top form. Drawing on a solid track record at the Maitland event (along with his win two years ago, he finished runner-up in 2016), so far he's continued that good run. In Round Three Thursday, he posted a heat total of 14.23 including an excellent 8.00-point ride (out of a possible 10).
"It is good to be back in Newcastle, it's a place where I have enjoyed some success," Muniz said. "This is the first time I have competed properly since my injury and it feels really good. That was a pretty tough heat so I'm really stoked to come out on top. I was competing at a few events last year and my knee was really sore so I decided too not go to Hawaii and rest up. I'm glad I did because I'm feeling good."
After a number of years of just missing out on qualifying for the Championship Tour, Sunshine Coaster Mitch Coleborn decided to take a different approach to competition in 2017. The progressive goofyfooter is now taking things one contest at a time and minimizing the amount of stress he puts on himself during competition. With this new approach in mind, Coleborn took to the water in Heat 10 of Round Three and stuck to his game plan. He went left and right during the heat, but it was his backhand that caught the attention of the judges, who scored him a heat total of 12.86 to progress into Round Four.
"I love coming to Newcastle to compete, but I've never had an epic result here," he said. "I feel like a good result here would give you a good roll early in the season, so hopefully I can snag a decent result this week. The last few years I have chased the QS really hard and put a lot of pressure on myself, which has been tough. I think this year I want to take a more relaxed approach and try and enjoy myself a little more and just have fun with it."
Finishing ahead of Coleborn in Heat 10 was another goofyfoot, West Australian Jacob Willcox, who also opted to show off his lethal backhand attack in a heat that was filled with big names. No one was able to catch him, however. He posted a solid heat total of 15.06.
"One thing that you have to learn about the QS is there is no such thing as an easy heat," Willcox said. "All you can worry about is yourself and your own surfing, so that's what I did in that heat. I felt good and am pumped to make a few more heats."
Once the Men's Round Three was completed for the day, it was time for Round Three of the Anditi Women's Pro to hit water, which meant the event's top seeds would be hitting the water.
Stephanie Gilmore started her 2017 competitive campaign with a near-perfect 19.00 point score (out of a possible 20) at the Anditi Women's Pro in her opening heat of the event. Power and precision were the best ways to describe the six-time World Champion's approach as she sent a clear warning shot to her fellow competitors.
"Looking at the conditions before the heat I didn't think I would be posting those sorts of scores," Gilmore said. "That was really actually quite fun out there. I have been here for almost a week and that was my first heat so I was pretty hungry to get out there. That's the sort of start to the year I like."
The first heat of the day showcased Hawaiian Tatiana Weston-Webb, who put on an awesome display of full-rail surfing to progress into Round Four. The current World No. 4 was stoked to get back into competition after a long break.
"Competing is a familiar thing for us, so the off-season doesn't have too much of an effect," Weston-Webb said. "I trained pretty hard over the last few months and stayed focused, but it is good to be back in the jersey."
Conditions looked to be deteriorating at the beginning Round Three, Heat 5. That was until another young Hawaiian, Malia Manuel, got on a roll and ripped into the wind blown peaks at Merewether. After waiting patiently for three days to surf her first heat of the event, Manuel went big, posting an excellent single-wave score of 8.27 for a heat total of 15.37 -- the third highest of the event so far.
"There was a lot of anticipation leading up to that heat," Manuel said. "I have been waiting all week to compete so I was just stoked to get out there. The waves are all over the place, so you have to stay busy and just catch as many waves as possible. I just kept positive and it paid off."