In 2018, Paige Hareb will be back in surfing's big leagues. The New Zealander joined the women's elite Championship Tour eight years ago, but fell off the ranks at the end of the 2014 season. She has been working her way back ever since.

Hareb Hacks Up Honolua
Despite this 9-point ride in Round Two at Maui in 2014, Hareb went on to lose the heat -- her last on the CT for three years.

And as of the Quarterfinals Sunday at the Port Stephens Toyota NSW Pro, it looked like she'd be spending yet another year climbing toward requalification. Port Stephens was the final women's QS event of the year and, for surfers like Hareb who were on the requalification bubble, it was also their final shot at making the 2018 Tour. So when she lost in the Quarterfinals, to eventual winner (and CT surer) Johanne Defay, Hareb was crushed.

"I was so shattered after my loss I came home to watch," she said.

Paige Hareb In February, Hareb finished runner-up at the Anditi Women's Pro, another points-rich, QS 6,000-level event. - WSL / Tom Bennett

But just one round later, Hareb was gifted with a giant stroke of luck, in the way that only the intricacies of competitive surfing can offer. Tatiana Weston-Webb, a CT surfer who was also on the bubble, defeated QS surfer Macy Callaghan in their Semifinal battle. Callaghan happened to be ranked just ahead of Hareb, which meant that a win in the Semis would have almost definitely cemented her spot on the CT, just edging out the Kiwi.

Instead, fortune favored Hareb, as she watched it all unfold. "That heat was so hard to watch and I felt sick for the last few minutes, it just took forever," she said of the decisive Semifinal. "Once it was over and I knew I had qualified I just burst into tears. It has been an intense week and a long year so I'm glad it's over and I'm back. I have matured a lot over the last few years so I'm stoked to get back on and tackle it with a different approach and hopefully stay there."

Paige Hareb (NZL). Pro Anglet 2015. QS 1500 Women's event Despite the long road back to the CT, Hareb persisted. - WSL / Laurent Masurel

Hareb, of course, will have her work cut out for her when she returns to the elite level. It's become near-axiomatic that, as the waves have improved across the women's Championship Tour, so has the level of surfing. That's not to say that Hareb isn't up to the challenge. Her extended effort to get back to the elite ranks reveals a unique degree of grit and commitment -- both of which will serve her well when she returns.

Along with Hareb, Floridian Caroline Marks will be joining the CT this year, for the first time. At 15, she'll be the youngest on Tour, as well as the only rookie. Look out for both women when the new season kicks off in March.

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