Merewether Beach has come to life for the opening day of the 35th annual Surfest Newcastle Pro World Surf League (WSL) Qualifying Series (QS) 5000 event. With some of the best waves seen in the events recent history, competitors in Men's Round 1 gorged on perfect four-to-six foot pits and groomed open walls to post massive totals on a memorable day of surfing.
Burleigh Heads youngster Maddy Job came to Newcastle hoping to gain some experience amongst the older QS5,000 competitors as he hopes to improve his seed on the QS rankings. Instead, he found himself getting one of the rides of his life in the middle of a heat, driving through a solid tube and busting over the foam ball to post a near-perfect 9.80 (out of a possible 10). Job couldn't believe his luck as he backed it up with an average number to win the heat and progress into Round 2.
"That is definitely the best wave I've had in a contest and one of the best I've ever had," Job said. "When I rocked up this morning and saw how good the waves were I was really excited but nothing prepared me for that thing. When I knew I was going to make it I knew it would be a massive score. I'm just so stoked to be doing what I'm doing on a day like today -- it's so perfect out there."
Fresh off an equal 3rd place finish at the recent Pro Taghazout Bay QS5,000 in Morocco, Portuguese competitor Vasco Ribeiro has arrived in Australia brimming with confidence as he looks to stamp his authority on the 2020 QS rankings. Cutting his teeth in the heaving beach breaks of Portugal, Ribeiro was in his element at Merewether today, pulling in deep on huge closeout looking waves, then squeezing through the tube to post the highest two-wave combination of the event so far, a 17.40 (out of a possible 20).
"I've been travelling to Australia for years now and I think these are the best waves I've ever seen in this country," Ribeiro said. "These are definitely some of the best waves we've had in a contest - it's really perfect out there. It's always good to get off to a good start in a contest, especially for your confidence. I'm happy to be back here in Newcastle, I really like this place."
Having competed at the highest level of surfing and on the QS for over a decade, Patrick Gudauskas wasn't expecting to find himself in the first round of the competition when he arrived in Newcastle. It's safe to say the San Clemente veteran wasn't asking any questions when he saw conditions at Merewether as he went out and took his heat with a solid two-wave combination of 16.56. Gudauskas compared his heat today to surfing on the elite Championship Tour where perfect conditions are the norm.
"Surfing in the first round today was a total bonus," Gudauskas said. "I rocked up and saw it was six foot and barreling and was so happy to surf. It reminded me of surfing on the Championship Tour because you really had to remind yourself to relax and let your surfing do the talking. It's so sick out there I'm stoked to be in Round 1 and make it -- this is the perfect start to any event -- I'm stoked."
Another Southern Californian to turn heads on Day 1 was Kei Kobayashi who threaded his way through a long tube to post a near excellent 9.17 and take his first heat win for the year. Kobayashi was lucky to post it as he struggled to find a backup and won the heat on the strength of one score.
"That's definitely the best wave I've ever had in a contest," Kobayashi said. "I wasn't sure that I was going to make it then I just popped over the foam ball and saw the exit. I'm on a board that is so good in the tube so I'm stoked I took it out. I just want to get back out there and keep surfing -- it's pumping out there."
Other standouts on the opening day of competition included South African Shane Sykes, Alan Clealand, Cole Houshmand, Marco Giorgi, Chris Zaffis, Kauli Vaast, Kai Tandler, Marc Lacomare and Sheldon Simkus to name a few.
Contest directors will reconvene at Merewether Beach at 6:30 a.m. local time to make a call on the competition for as possible 7:00 a.m. start for either Women's Round 1 or Men's Round 2.
The 2020 Surfest Newcastle Pro presented by Burton Automotive will run from March 2 - 8.