The highly anticipated swell finally arrived at Merewether Beach for the second to last day of the Maitland and Port Stephens Pro and Taggart Women's Pro, the two signature events of the Newcastle Surfest.
The bigger swell didn't make things any easier on World No. 3 Sally Fitzgibbons, who was up against Alana Blanchard in her Round 6 heat. "It was pretty hard out there today, a real chess match of a heat," Fitzgibbons said. "When the waves are like that you have to be so strategic in how you surf the heat. I found the biggest challenge to be getting two decent scores in the 30 minutes as it was a lot of work to get back out and find the spot. I'm really stoked to get through to the Quarters, I can't wait to get out there tomorrow."
Stephanie Gilmore continues to inspire in her return to competition, showing no evidence of the injury that forced her to take time off in 2015. She earned a 9.90 (out of a possible 10) in her match against 19-year-old Australian upstart Holly Wawn to book herself a spot in the Quarterfinals.
"I got out really early in that heat and saw a few good rights a bit further up from where everyone else was sitting so though I'd se how I go there," Gilmore said. "Once the heat started nothing was really happening there then luckily one popped up and I was in the spot. It was one of the better ones I saw out there this morning and it felt like I surfed it well."
The final Round 6 match pitted the reigning World Junior Champion Isabella Nicholls against last year's CT rookie standout, Tatiana Weston-Webb. Weston-Webb's experience shone through waiting patiently for the bigger set waves and posting a modest heat total of 13.90 with a great display of power surfing. Nicholls was unable to find a substantial score and was eliminated from the event.
"It was really hard work out there," Weston-Webb said. "I spent a lot of time watching the waves before my heat so had a pretty good idea of what I was looking for. I knew if I could get two half-decent turns in out the back I would get a score so I made sure I got waves that would offer that for me."
After surfing in one of the first heats yesterday during the peak of the storm, Championship Tour (CT) Matt Wilkinson was pleased to have bigger cleaner surf during his heat today. Wilkinson mixed it up going left and right to score a heat total of 13.33 to progress to the Quarterfinals.
"It's so nice getting waves with a bit more power today," Wilkinson said. "It still is pretty hard work but it's really fun having big sections to hit. I didn't get any really good ones but if you find one with two big section you could definitely post a big score."
Finding big sections to post big scores is exactly what Connor O'Leary did in Heat 2 of Round 5. O'Leary looked unstoppable taking two set rights nailing turn after turn earning himself a 9.57 and an 8.00 along with a spot in the finals.
"I was lucky to get those two rights as I was actually looking to go left," O'Leary said. "Both of those waves popped up out of no-where so I definitely feel lucky. Posting a couple of scores like that is good to build confidence, knowing I can do that takes some pressure off of me before surfing in the Quarterfinals."
After starting his year off with a win at the Shoe City Pro at Huntington Beach, former CT competitor Patrick Gudauskas looked to be continuing his good form through the contest at Merewether. However the young Californian found himself in second spot only needing a small score with seconds remaining. Gudauskas scratched into a smaller inside wave on the buzzer to post a 4.70 and move one step closer to making it two contest wins in a row.
"I knew I needed a score of some sort just not what score," Gudauskas said. "So when I finished that wave and heard a few cheers I knew it was going to be closed, stoked I got that wave. This is my first time back in this event for a few years and I have always loved coming here so to make it to the finals is sick."
Tune into the live webcast tomorrow to watch as we crown a Men's and Women's Champion.