- WSL / Cait Miers

Championship Tour surfing is back and the world's best have used the fun conditions on offer at Merewether beach for the first day of the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup presented by Corona to provide a stark reminder of the differences between their small-waves games and the mere mortals who surf these conditions on a daily basis.

When the sun rose on Day One of the Australian leg, Merewether was providing contestable, waist- to chest-high rights hugging the rocks in the southern end of the beach as well as some punchy left shorebreaks that made for some exciting ramps. This provided a compelling snapshot into how the best surfers in the world generate speed in the small stuff and meant heat strategy and a high-energy approach carried the day.

Post Show: The Championship Tour Makes Its Long-Awaited Return Down Under
Kicking off the Australian leg of the Championship Tour with a high-energy opening day of the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup presented by Corona.

World Number Ones Rule

Tyler Wright and John John Florence came to Australia wearing the yellow leader's jersey after their victories in Hawaii, and both wasted little time providing a reminder of why they're on top of the rankings.

Florence has spent a winter surfing the heavy waves of the North Shore and there was some speculation about how well that preparation would transfer to the beach-breaks of Australia's East Coast. Well, the answer is: Very well. Florence was light-footed and electric, riding a carbon Dark Arts Pyzel.

"It's full carbon, no stringer, That's new for me, I've always been just on polyester," he said after winning his Round One heat with one of the highest totals of the day. "It's a little bit different, but I really like them. They have a lot of good spring and speed. The carbon does a lot of things, it controls the flex a little more because you don't have a stringer down the middle."

NEWCASTLE, AUS - APRIL 1: Two-time WSL Champion John John Florence of Hawaii surfing in Heat 3 of Round 1 of the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup presented by Corona on April 1, 2021 in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Matt Dunbar/World Surf League via Getty Images) John John Florence was lightfooted and electric riding a carbon surfboard enroute to a convincing heat win. - WSL / Matt Dunbar

"There's no twisting going on around the stringer. We've tried so many different types of layups with it and kind of landed on this one, it works really well and has a lot of control," he added.

Meanwhile, Wright, another two-time World Champion, was coming off a victory at the first women's Championship Tour event at Pipeline but proved she's able to win in all conditions. She was dominant in her heat, employing the smart strategy and powerful surfing, which has been her trademark throughout her career. She used priority to drop one of the highest scored of the day, a 7.60 thanks to four textbook turns right into the Merewether sand in the final seconds of her Round One heat.

"It's part of coming back, to be really efficient [and] really smart," she said in her post-heat interview.

NEWCASTLE, AUS - APRIL 1: Two-time WSL Champion Tyler Wright of Australia surfing in Heat 2 of Round 1 of the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup presented by Corona on April 1, 2021 in Newcastle, Australia. Tyler Wright and coach Glen Hall talk heat strategy. - WSL / Matt Dunbar

These Surfers Make The Waves Look So Fun

If ever there was an obvious gulf between the performances of the best surfers in the world and mere civilians, it was Day One of the Australian leg of the Championship Tour. The fun but challenging waves required perfect positioning and lightning fast timing.

Filipe Toledo reminded everyone that he's still probably the best small-wave surfer in the world, going what seemed like a hundred miles an hour on every wave he caught. While he might have fallen short of his potential in Hawaii, he was tack-sharp in Australia and looks like he could go deep in the event.

"The board helps a lot. I always try to generate speed where it's hard to make the section, I challenge myself to go as fast as I can every time I stand up on a board," he said after his Round One win.

NEWCASTLE, AUS - APRIL 1: 7X WSL Champion Stephanie Gilmore of Australia surfing in Heat 4 of Round 1 of the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup presented by Corona on April 1, 2021 in Newcastle, Australia. (Photo by Matt Dunbar/World Surf League via Getty Images) Seven-time World Champ Stephanie Gilmore applying her trademark style in the tricky Merewether conditions. - WSL / Matt Dunbar

Meanwhile, the defending World Champion Italo Ferreira took the boundless energy he was displaying during his stint in quarantine straight to the Newcastle lineup, catching 17 waves in his heat, all of them bangers, including a huge straight air right into the shorebreak.

Stephanie Gilmore, who posted one of the highest combined heat totals of day one, also showed that her smooth style translates just as well to smaller waves as it does to the lined up points where it's often on display. Meanwhile, Yago Dora launched some airs which could have slotted right into a freesurfing edit.

Hometown Hero Makes Good

It's safe to say that at the start of this year, Championship Tour surfer Ryan Callinan didn't think he'd be surfing an event in his front yard, and while the pressure of being the hometown favorite could have cramped his style, he instead used it post the highest heat total of the day, a 15.26, thanks to a powerful, unrelenting backhand attack.

Taking out an event at home would be huge for Callinan, especially after he came painfully close, placing second to Julian Wilson at the Surfest QS event in 2020.

"Until last year I'd never really channeled being at home as well as I could have, and last year kind of showed me what it could be like, to really enjoy the hometown advantage and the crowd and all the support, so I feel like I'm starting to embrace it and having a lot of fun with it," Callinan said.

NEWCASTLE, AUS - APRIL 1: Ryan Callinan of Australia surfing in Heat 10 of Round 1 of the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup presented by Corona on April 1, 2021 in Newcastle, Australia.(Photo by Matt Dunbar/World Surf League via Getty Images) Ryan Callinan on his way to the highest heat total of Day One. - WSL / Matt Dunbar

Caroline Marks Looks Unstoppable On Her Backhand

She may have arrived in Australia a few days later than the rest of the Tour, but Caroline Marks has wasted no time reminding her competitors that she's got a giant future ahead of her. Banking the highest wave score of Day One, all those years growing up in Florida's small surf has served her well.

"I'm so grateful to be here, it was definitely really stressful to get here but I'm stoked I'm all healthy and good to go. It's so good to be back in Australia, it's been a few years and it's one of my favorite places in the world," Marks said of the false-positive Covid test result which temporarily kept her at home.

"I'm really stoked with how that went, I was a little bit nervous, first heat of the year but it went well so I'm stoked," Marks said.

Caroline Marks Drops Hammers With The Highest Women's Heat Total
The 19-year-old picks up where she left off in Australia with an excellent ride in her Round 1 win at Merewether Beach.

What To Watch Out For

There's some dramatic match-ups set for the Elimination Round, as well as some solid swell in the forecast for later in the event window. According to our forecast partners Surfline, there are multiple swell sources combining to generate a solid southerly ground swell from Tuesday next week. This outlook will be become clearer in the coming days -- especially the wind direction and strength -- so stay tuned.

And If you play Fantasy, don't forget to set your picks -- you now have until end of elimination to lock them in.

World Surf League
Download it for free on the App store. Download it for free on Google Play.