When everyone went to bed on Monday night the ocean was barely breaking, but by this morning Merewether beach had glassy three-to-four foot waves tumbling along the rocks in the southern end. This break has many faces and early on Day Two of competition at the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup presented by Corona it was doing its best impression of a right-hand point, with the tide running out and the first hints of an easterly breeze beginning to feather.
Will There Be A New Leader?
Has the stage been set for a new owner of the women's Yellow Leader jersey? Current World No. 1 Tyler Wright -- who employed a unique strategy of concentrating on the inside bank -- was knocked out today after a hotly-contested Round of 16 heat with Courtney Conlogue, while four-time World Champion and world no.2 Carissa Moore comfortably moved past wildcard Philippa Anderson, securing her spot in the Quarterfinals. If Moore finishes third or better, she will regain the leader's jersey she handed to Wright at Pipeline in December last year. The door is now also wide open for Stephanie Gilmore to grab a solid amount of points as well.
Carissa Powering Through
Speaking of Moore, she banked the highest heat score for the women today, in part thanks to an 8.00 ride for a wave punctuated by an absolute monster of a heavy-footed layback hack in her heat against Anderson. Rather than hunt the runners on an inside bank, Moore hung right out the back and waited patiently for the sets which she dismantled as only a four-time World Champ can, even with much of the home crowd cheering for the wildcard.
"It is challenging, you know they have the local knowledge, they know where to sit they have the love and support of the crowd, it's kind of like you against the rest of the world," Moore said after her heat against the hometown hero.
Leo Drops A Hammer For The First Nine Of The Event
Italy's Leonardo Fioravanti overcame a ding mishap to lock in the highest single wave score of the event so far, as well as earning today's highest two-wave heat total (15.67). He put it all together on a mid-sized wave which began with a critical hit to a controlled fall from the lip and ended with him demolishing the end section for a 9.00.
This was on a Christiaan Bradley board, after a Sharp Eye Leo was planning to ride was damaged in a collision with a grom during a warmup surf this morning.
"It was heavy, I was on the wave and this grom took off in the whitewash and I took off out the back, on the inside … and he just went on the whitewash and he was just basically going in, I felt like.
"So I did a cutback and he ran straight into me. I felt [the nose of] his board go straight into my fin plug and basically scooped my fin plug out," Leo said after his heat.
Still, the mishap perhaps proved serendipitous with Leo riding what is so far the wave of the event.
"I went out there to pick the best waves … in my first heat I didn't have very good wave choices. I wanted to really pick the brains out of the good waves and this wave, when I paddled into it, it looked like a good wave … I feel like I'm surfing really well and I know that if I get good waves I can get big scores and it [that wave] gave me some confidence in what I already knew I could do," he said.
This wasn't the only accident of the event either. Seven-time World Champion Stephanie Gilmore was right next to a jetski which came unstuck, while Wildcard Matt Banting narrowly avoided 2015 World Champ Adriano de Souza in their Elimination Round heat this morning, almost seeming to ollie over the Brazilian.
Some Big Upsets
Some big seeds were knocked out of the event today, with Wright, Tatiana Weston-Webb and Sally Fitzgibbons all failing to progress past the Round of 16. Weston-Webb went down to Australian Rookie Isabella Nichols, whose wave selection helped her move past the experienced Championship Tour competitor.
"I feel like this heat I did pretty much everything I could, I think Bella just got super lucky with her insides [sections], I know if any of my waves had insides, like good insides I know for sure I would have gotten sevens or above. It sounds really cocky to say, but I just felt really good, you know," she said in a post-heat interview.
Meanwhile, Fitzgibbons was taken out by Keely Andrew, whose coach Andy King is also now working with two-time World Champion Gabriel Medina in his first year on tour without long-time coach and stepdad Charlie.
The upsets don't end there, though. In the second-last heat of the day Lakey Peterson was sent packing care of Australia's Bronte Macaulay. And earlier, Mikey Wright was eliminated in an All-Aussie superheat with Jack Robinson and Julian Wilson.
What To Watch Out For
There's some big heats on the horizon, with serious implications for the Rankings. As mentioned, the door is opened for a potential change of leader on the women's side. Next up is a likely run of the Men's Round of 32, which will see two of the most exciting surfers Australia has to offer come up against each other once again, with Julian Wilson and Jack Robinson set to square off. Defending World Champion Italo Ferreira is up against wildcard Jackson Baker, and Medina has drawn Australia's Connor O'Leary, who has unveiled a new contest jersey celebrating his Japanese heritage. . The women's Quarterfinals will be a very Australian affair, with half of the competitors in the field from Down Under, and notably Steph is up against Rookie Isabella Nichols, who has found a rich vein of form. Importantly, there's also a solid pulse of easterly swell through Friday, so stay tuned.