Massive crowds have braved unruly weather to line the shores of Manly Beach and watch 11-time WSL World Champion Kelly Slater hit the water and compete at the 2019 Vissla Sydney Surf Pro QS 6,000 event.
The greatest surfer of all time didn't disappoint, taking out his opening heat against QS warriors Vicente Romero, Ramzi Boukhiam and Victor Bernardo. 47 year-old Slater made light work of the small conditions on offer at Manly, speeding through turns and slicing sections to overcome his opponents.
"I haven't surfed a QS event in so long especially in small waves like this so I was really aware that anything could have happened today," Slater said. "There is not a lot of separation between surfers when the waves are like this. It really comes down to who gets the best waves, but I also knew that the three guys I was up against are really talented and super competitive. Arriving at the beach today was pretty crazy with all of the people -- I could really feel the energy being focused on me, especially because I haven't surfed here in so long."
Slater, who once resided on the Northern Beaches for half the year during the late 1990's and early 2000's was over the moon to return to such a familiar place to get his 2019 competitive season underway. The last time he competed in Sydney was in 2004 when he won the Australian Open at Maroubra.
"The last time I was here I won in Maroubra and then went to Newcastle and won there so let's hope I can get that kind of roll on again," Slater continued. "It is really cool to be back in Sydney though, I love flying in over the Harbour and just the feeling of being in a big city that still has beautiful beaches and great surf -- It's a really unique and special place."
After winning the heat, Slater progresses into Round 3 where he will surf in Heat 5 against three of the QS's inform surfers including Alex Ribeiro, who is fresh off a win in Newcastle last week, CT competitor Jesse Mendes and Frenchman Charly Quivront. Heat 5 will likely hit the water at approximately 3:30 pm AEDT tomorrow.
Using his lethal backhand attack, Jacob Willcox proceeded to destroy the tiny righthanders on offer in his round two heat. Willcox nailed an array of mammoth snaps and carves in the heat to post a giant 8.50 score that allowed him to gain the upperhand over current Championship Tour surfer Soli Bailey who also progressed in the runner-up spot.
Young Californian goofy-footer Cole Houshmand took one of the biggest scalps of his up-and-coming career taking a huge victory over 2019 Championship Tour debutant Seth Moniz. Houshmand played the patient game over the course of the heat, just posting small scores until he was able to drop a respectable 7.00 wave score that rocketed him straight into the lead and cement his spot into round three.
"The conditions definitely started to slow down before my heat and I got a little worried," said Houshmand. "I just wanted to start out busy as you didn't know what would deliver a score. That being said I was pretty stoked to be out there on the lower tide as I know it would be really slow when the tide was higher."
Having won a QS6000 in Manly back in 2012 in similar conditions, Matt Banting knew what it would take to post impressive scores when he tackled his round two heat. Banting - who is currently sitting in third position on the QS rankings - used his light-footed approach to positive effect in the heat, throwing down a series of giant air-reverses and tail wafts to walk away from the heat with a respectable 11.50 two-wave heat total.
"Yeah it's pretty similar to what we surfed in 2012," said Banting. "I'm just excited to be down here at this event, there's always such an amazing vibe down here and it was awesome to see it packed for Kelly's heat. It felt a bit like that finals day in 2012 and the whole vibe and culture down here really pumped me up."