- WSL / Ethan Smith
- WSL / Ethan Smith

The 2018 Port Stephens Toyota Pro has continued today with Women's Round 3, featuring the event's top seeds. Some of women's surfing's biggest names did battle with future stars as the race toward the 2019 Championship Tour hit its last event for the season.

Port Stephens Toyota Pro Day 3 Line Up at Birubi was incredibly intising. - WSL / Tom Bennett

After starting off the year with an equal 3rd place finish at the Roxy Pro Gold Coast, Malia Manuel has struggled to find consistent results and now faces the potential of being relegated from the Championship Tour. The stylish Hawaiian has found some success on the Qualifying Series and could keep her dream alive with a good result here at Port Stephens. Manuel started her campaign strong winning her opening heat with a two-wave total of 14.60 (out of a possible 20).

"It's great to be back in Australia," Manuel said. "It's strange to be here at this time of year, but definitely good to be back. I had a great start to the year in Australia in the QS events and at Snapper, but the rest of the year has had some ups-and-downs. I'm here to try and get a good result so I can head to Maui feeling relaxed. If I post a good result here I should be safe for next year."

Malia Manuel at the Port Stephens Toyota Pro QS6000 Malia Manuel enjoying her first visit to Port Stephens. - WSL / Ethan Smith

At last year's Port Stephens Toyota Pro, young Australian Macy Callaghan missed out on qualification by one heat. It was a heartbreaking loss for the 2016 World Junior Champion, but it was an experience that she grew from and has returned in 2018 with a new approach to competing. After finishing runner-up at the recent Roxy Pro France CT event as a wildcard, Callaghan has proved that she can mix it with the best and with success this week she will be joining the best as a fulltime CT competitor in 2019. Macy flew out of the gates at Birubi posting an excellent 8.83 (out of a possible 10) on her way to a convincing heat win.

"I've been really excited for this event so it felt really good to have such a good start," Callaghan said. "We had a few lay days so I was amped to get in the water. My heat seemed to be at the best time for the tide, which I was stoked about - the waves were really fun. It actually reminds me of France here with the dunes and the style of waves so I hope this is also a bit of a lucky event for me. The vibes are really good for me at the moment, my family is all here which is cool and I'm just feeling really good."

Macy Callaghan at the Port Stephens Toyota Pro QS6000 Macy Callaghan posted the highest heat total and single wave score of the event so far in her opening heat. - WSL / Ethan Smith

Another Championship Tour competitor who is using the last QS event of the year as a bit of a safety buffer before Maui is Victorian Nikki Van Dijk. Currently sitting in 10th on the CT rankings, Van Dijk might end up relying on her QS ranking to remain on the CT in 2019. Nikki found a good rhythm at Birubi to take a comfortable win and progress into Round 4.

"The waves were so fun out there I kind of wish I had another heat today," Van Dijk said. "I'm here to win this contest and set myself up to re-qualify. I'm currently re-qualifying through both the CT and QS but with so many good surfers on both tours I want to put my fate in my own hands and guarantee myself a spot on tour next year."

Nikki Van Dijk at the Port Stephens Toyota Pro Nikki Van Dijk isdoing her best to double qualify fopr the CT in 2019. - WSL / Tom Bennett

Sage Erickson is another CT competitor who is unexpectedly on the verge of being relegated to the QS if she doesn't find a result either here or at Maui. Having won the QS twice before, Erickson doesn't seem too fazed about this prospect. The super cool Californian took a step in the right direction today, winning her opening heat at Birubi convincingly, despite a strong sea breeze putting significant texture on the wave faces.

"It definitely wasn't the most optimal conditions for that heat," Erickson said. "I feel like at this stage of the year you have surfed every kind of conditions so you should be expecting to get anything and surf your best. I'm not thinking too much about the qualification situation at the moment. I've spent a lot of time and energy this year trying to manifest results and performances and it hasn't really worked out. I'm just thankful that I still have an opportunity and that I get to live this life. What ever happens, happens and if I come back onto the QS next year that's fine. I've won the QS twice before so I'm cool with doing it again."

Sage Erickson at the Port Stephens Toyota Pro Sage Erickson is content with any result at this stage of the year but in Round 3 at Port Stephens she looked destined for a big one. - WSL / Tom Bennett

Other competitors in the hunt for Qualification who progressed through to Round 4 included local hopeful Philippa Anderson who snuck through her heat along with India Robinson. Brisa Hennesy also progressed in second behind a fired up Kirra Pinkerton while Aussie hopeful Holly Wawnwon her opening heat ahead of Chelsea Tuach.

Dimity Stoyle, Isabella Nichols, Freya Prumm, and Leilani McGonagle all progressed into Round 4 as well.

Kirra Pinkerton at the Port Stephens Toyota Pro Kirra Pinkerton dominated her Round 3 match-up. - WSL / Tom Bennett

Bronte Macaulay took a solid win in the opening heat of the day, overcoming Claire Bevilacqua and Canadian Bethany Zelasko. Fellow West Australian, Felicity Palmateer, had drawn Macaulay and Bevilacqua after winning her Round 2 heat yesterday. However the 26 year-old has suffered an ongoing lower back sprain that has seen her out of the water for many weeks. Her performance yesterday aggravated the injury and despite the help of local physicians, she decided to withdraw from competition.

"I surfed well yesterday, but after my heat I was in a lot of pain and lost a lot of movement, It was hard for my to walk up the beach and I could barely take off my wetsuit," said Palmateer. "The risk of further damage and the possibility of a long recovery at this stage of the year is one that's not worth taking, so I decided to withdraw and give my body the chance to heal up 100%."

Bronte Macaulay at the Port Stephens Toyota Pro QS6000 Bronte Macaulay on a morning gem at Birubi. - WSL / Ethan Smith

After Women's Round 3 was completed, four heats of Men's Round 3 were surfed meaning there is a possibility of the Men's QS1,000 being completed tomorrow so be sure to tune in.

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