- WSL / Thomas Bennett

It was happiness and heartbreak in Newcastle after a countback crowned Julian Wilson (AUS) the Surfest Newcastle Pro QS5,000 winner over local Merewether surfer Ryan Callinan (AUS). After both surfers totalled scores of 14.27 at the end of the 35-minute final, the Mark Richards trophy was deservedly awarded to the event's form surfer and current World Number 11 for posting the highest single-wave score, an 8.50 for a series of smooth forehand turns on the heat's biggest wave.

Callinan, the goofy-footed World Number 14, was ever-so-close to becoming the first local Surfest winner, using the support of his home town to claim his place in the final - the first time for a Newcastle male athlete in the current man-on-man format. However, Wilson may now lay claim to that title, having moved to the area two years ago with his young family and a further local connection, being coached by Merewether's own and former Surfest finalist Luke Egan.

Previously meeting in a Championship Tour (CT) decider in France 2018, Wilson and Callinan went wave-for-wave in the final 20 minutes, trading forehand and backhand carves on the right-hand, wind-affected waves. It was the regular-footer who prevailed from the tie in the end, however, noting that Newcastle's sense of community made it a special event to win.

"It's a really nice feeling," Wilson said on taking the title in his now home-town. "The community is unbelievable in this area and there is so much support. To win and share the final with Ryan is really special. I can see how much pressure is on his shoulders here and it was really special to get the win."

"That one was for Luke (Egan) for sure. He has come close here before and has been in my corner all week and his local knowledge has really helped me for everything to come together nicely. I feel I struggled to show up last year (on the CT) and I put in a lot of hard work over the time off so it's nice to get that feedback early in the year to see that it is paying off."

For Callinan it was heartbreakingly close to claiming a home title, connecting with two huge backhand turns to score a 7.77 and tie the final heat totals, coming agonisingly short of winning an event that means more than just ratings points to the Novocastrian.

"It's been a pretty special week for me, I normally get pretty rattled but I really just tried to embrace it," Callinan said of his hometown support. "We compete around the world and there's a lot of people watching. Everyone here watches me and really cheers me on but to feel it live and in the flesh was great. Every time I ran down for a heat there were hundreds of people cheering and screaming. It makes it more real and shows a side to Newcastle that I love and I love being a part of it."

"I feel like I've been surfing really well but especially that Semifinal, that's how I want to surf every heat. I think that was one of the best performances I've had in a heat in a long time. I think your hometown is the one you want to win the most but it's also the hardest. There's a lot of pressure on your shoulders because there are a lot of people around that want you to win."

It took the highest heat total of the day, an 18.30 two-wave combination rewarded for impeccable surfing both on the wave face and above the lip from Callinan to knock out Ian Gouveia (BRA), who threw caution to the wind with a huge frontside air to post a semi-final score of 17.10. Unfortunately for the Brazillian, he was sent packing by one of the in-form surfers of the event for a third-place result.

Peruvian Alonso Correa (PER) backed up a second-place finish at the Pro Taghazout Bay QS5000 with a semi-final result in Newcastle to rocket himself up QS rankings. Posting a pair of mid-six-point rides with fluent backhand surfing late in the heat, Correa was unable to take down the adopted local-boy Wilson and was left chasing a score of 8.41.

Former CT surfer Joan Duru (FRA) pushed eventual Champion Wilson right to the end in a back-and-forth heat for the events first quarter-final, his combined 16.07 not enough to gain a semi-finals berth. A frustrating result for the in-form goofy-footer who will now head to Manly for the Sydney Surf Pro, though he should take confidence in a fifth-place and strong showing in Newcastle.

The second and third quarter-finals were tight affairs with Charly Quivront (FRA) and Reef Heazlewood (AUS) bowing out with fifth-place results, while an all-Australian battle between 2015 Surfest Champion Matt Banting (AUS) and Callinan saw the Port Macquarie surfer unable to find the 7.71 required on his final wave to leave Newcastle with a quarter-final finish.

The 2020 Surfest Newcastle Pro presented by Burton Automotive will run from March 2 - 8.

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