Distance makes the heart grow fonder, and it was clear the field at Cabarita, competing in the Tweed Coast Pro, had been missing surfing's main stage. Championship Tour Rookies, denied their freshman year, were finally set loose and some of the fiercest competitors in the sport slipped back into the familiar embrace of a winning feeling.
Day One was a paradox that played into the hands of spectators: Surfing was finally back and it was time to go to work, but without rankings, qualifications and the sundry stresses of the Championship Tour proper to cramp anyone's style, the field was ebullient, loose, and left nothing on the table.
When the final buzzer rang on Day One, an already stacked field had been distilled to a series of Quarterfinal match-ups for Day Two that are bound to cause some fireworks, and the marque athletes had delivered a blistering reminder of why they're on top of their game.
Today, in the Opening Round, Gilmore -- the highest-ranked woman in the draw -- returned to competition at one of her home breaks and announced almost instantly that she hadn't come to take any prisoners. Riding a spicy DHD epoxy, she joined all the right dots on her opening wave in her timeless, elegant style for an 8.33 and eventually banked the highest heat total of the Women's draw (a 15.93), defeating wildcards Zahli Kelly and India Robinson in the process.
We hadn't seen Steph in a jersey since she claimed her 31st Championship Tour victory at the lululemon Maui Pro in December 2019, and it was clear the time off hadn't quenched any competitive fire.
Once this excellent score was locked, she looked at home in the Cabarita lineup, her trademark smile dialed up between waves as she calmly dominated the heat, booking a spot in the Quarters.
Meanwhile, Two-time World Champion Tyler Wright took a knee on the sand for 439 seconds -- one second for every First Nations person in Australia who has lost their life in police custody since 1991 -- while her opening heat against Molly Picklum and Sally Fitzgibbons was underway.
Once she made her belated paddle out, this heat pitted two of the powerhouses of Australian surfing against one of the most promising up and coming talents in Picklum, who recently stole the show in the Rip Curl film Postcards from Morgz, and, before that, with a huge backside full rotation which kicked the surfing media into a frenzy.
But it was Wright, after sacrificing several minutes to an essential cause, who still managed to win the heat and secure her spot in the quarterfinals. Tyler drove her board, emblazoned with the words "Black Lives Matter" through a series of powerful turns for a pair of high 6s which sealed the deal.
Wilson -- the Hurley sticker conspicuously absent from the nose of his board -- put a childhood spent surfing the often weak and small waves on the Sunshine Coast to good use, hunting out walls in a tricky-to-read lineup with a few flat sections to negotiate.
But it was Robinson, surfing clean, fast and polished after a Tour hiatus scoring at home in Western Australia who was the form surfer in this super heat, booking his Quarterfinals berth.
Championship Tour vet Owen Wright (the highest ranked male in the event) locked in the highest heat total of the Men's draw in the Opening Round, with his backhand attack let loose on the clean three-to-four foot waves for a two-wave total of 15.17.
And while his brother Mikey, still dealing with a series of injuries, was forced into the Elimination Round, he fired up and was able to surf past CT Rookie Morgan Cibilic -- himself competing with a ruptured eardrum -- in a tight heat separated by only 0.27 points.
And special mention must be made of Ethan Ewing, who pitted precision against raw power in his match-up with Wade Carmichael, and unleashed arguably the best wave of the day, earning a 9.17 in the process.
There were victories and disappointments, but with professional surfing finally back in Australia, everyone was a winner today. There's more great surf in the forecast so tune in from 0700 AEST.