The very first World Surf League (WSL) Challenger Series event, the Sydney Surf Pro, has kicked off at Manly Beach on International Women's Day with the world's best women surfers battling it out for valuable rankings points and prize money.
Kirra Pinkerton felt the brunt of a Manly fan frenzy as she shared the water with Bethany Hamilton (HAW) and thousands of people lining the Manly shoreline. Using the similar game plan as the recent Sisstrevoltion Central Coast Pro where she chose to rely on one-or-two mammoth turns, Pinkerton shone, nailing an array of impressive snaps and carves and posting a 7.17 and a 6.27 to amass a 13.44 two-wave heat total to get the heat win.
"I love surfing a heat with plenty of people on the beach, I think it really pumps me up, especially sharing a heat with Bethany," said Pinkerton. "My entire game plan in that heat was to act quickly, get two good scores and then sit on the people in third and fourth make sure they don't get a good score. In the last event, I made a few mistakes on that, so I wanted to work on there here in Manly."
Hamilton, put on a valiant performance over the course of the heat with Pinkerton, finding a handful of punchy peaks to finish with a 10.73 heat total and a second-place finish. The Sydney Surf Pro is the third event in a row, where Hamilton has been greeted by hundreds of fans on the beach after her heat. Hamilton will now face Sophie McCulloch and Brisa Hennessy (CRI) in the third round.
"I always feel a bit overwhelmed when I see so many people wanting to see me, but I think it's a beautiful thing to be able the inspire the next generation," said Hamilton. "I have been here for a few weeks in Australia with my family and I have been exploring the coastline and all the cliffs here. The kids and I have been loving seeing all the sea life and things around the coast."
A dream came true for Gabriela Bryan (HAW) in the second round of the Sydney Surf Pro as she was able to gain a win over two-time WSL World Champion Tyler Wright (AUS) Bryan put on a dominant performance in the heat, posting two good scores to notch up a solid 14.20 two-wave heat total and get the win ahead of Wright by a slender 0.30 margin. Both surfers will feature again in Round 3.
"That win gave me a lot of confidence for sure," said Bryan. "I went into like any other heat and knew that if I got my opportunity then I could make it through. My gameplan was to stay as busy as I could as the peaks were quite shifty and changing throughout the heat. When you're out there, you just try to forget about all the hype and stuff happening on the beach and focus entirely on what's happening in the heat for me."
Having only returned to competition late in 2019 after 18 months off with illness, Tyler Wright seemed like she had returned to title-winning form, smashing out a giant mix of snaps and carves to finish the heat in the runner-up position behind Bryan with an impressive 13.90 two-wave heat total. This heat progression is one of many for the natural-footer in Manly, dating back to when she took out the Beachley Classic on the same stretch of sand at 14-years old.
"I've got great support here in Manly and I always enjoy myself whenever I compete here," said Wright. "This event here is about getting some time back in the rashie and putting some heats together. I have only had about six heats for a long time, so I really want to make sure I'm putting heats together here. Coming into this event, I just wanted to make sure I surfed as many heats as I possibly could."
Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) got her 2020 Challenger Series campaign off to a flying start, surfing a near impeccable heat in Round 2. The south coast NSW local, put on a clinic over the duration of the heat, posting a solid 15.94 two-wave heat total to leave all her fellow surfers needing a near-perfect 9.31 wave score to take away her lead. Fitzgibbons will meet Wright and USA youngster Alyssa Spencer (USA) in the upcoming third round.
"No matter how many practice heats you have in the offseason it doesn't prepare you for the real thing, so it was good to tee off out there today and get the year started," said Fitzgibbons. "I definitely wanted to have an impactful moment in my heat as I saw a lot of people fighting over the five- and six-point rides, so I had to find some bigger moments. It took me falling a few times to get there, but I was thankfully able to tidy it up later in the heat and get some high scores."
Reigning World Champion Carissa Moore (HAW) surfed her first heat since claiming the 2019 World Title, smashing apart the Manly lineup. The Hawaiian native powered her way through a multitude of sections in the Round 2 heat and as a result, was awarded the highest wave score of the day, a near-perfect 9.63. The score gave Moore the edge over fellow Hawaiian and former Championship Tour surfer Coco Ho (HAW) who claimed the runner-up finish.
"It was a bit of a surprise to surf a heat like that after three months away from competing," said Moore. "I'm not sure if I'm still feeling confident from winning the World Title. I think I'm a person that needs to keep validating myself, so this year is a clean slate and I'm in the mix with everyone else. I think beach breaks are the one area of my surfing that I think needs the most work and that's exactly what I'm here in Manly doing this week."
The Sydney Surf Pro WSL Challenger Series event will run from March 8 through 14, 2020.