On a cool autumn morning, the third event of the 2021 Championship Tour got underway at one of Australia's most classic surf spots.
Over the decades, Narrabeen has played host to some big moments in surfing, molded some of its fiercest competitors, and is now back in the spotlight in the form of the Rip Curl Narrabeen Classic presented by Corona.
On an opening day that saw tricky conditions, the world's best surfers navigated a big playing field of lefts and rights as a new south pulse wrapped in. Those currently atop the WSL Leaderboard, namely Italo Ferreira and Carissa Moore, did what they had to do to survive the dangerous Seeding Round. Other World Champs weren't quite so lucky. Here's what you need to know about opening day in Narrabeen:
Italo Rolls Fanning
Coming off his win at the recent Rip Curl Newcastle Cup presented by Corona, Italo kept the momentum going in trademark fashion: a lot of energy and big, big airs. He carried that through to his first heat at Narrabeen, locking in the highest two-wave total of the day, a 14.16, and sending out-of-retirement Wildcard and three-time World Champ Mick Fanning to the Elimination Round.
"It's amazing to see all of these fans down here," said Fanning. "I was actually quite emotional as I ran down the beach before paddling out hearing all of the cheers and seeing all the smiling faces. I'm really disappointed I didn't put on more of a show though. It was always going to be such a tough task against Italo and Morgan [Cibilic], they got first and third at the last event so are in epic form. I'm just hoping in my next heat I can get a bit more opportunity and put on more of a show."
Heat Wins Alludes World Champions
There wasn't a shortage of swell, but the direction meant it was a case finding a diamond in the rough and hunting a runner amongst all the close-outs. To put into perspective the unique challenge on offer, however, not one of the three World Champions in the women's draw won their heat. And now, after a hiccup in Newcastle, World No.2 Tyler Wright will have to surf through the Elimination Round to keep her run going.
Japan's Tsuzuki Makes History
Meanwhile, Amuro Tsuzuki -- who flew to Australia and did two weeks in hotel quarantine to be in the right place at the right time -- got her CT debut as an injury replacement for Lakey Peterson, who has withdrawn from the rest of the Australian leg with a back injury. Tsuzuki is the first Japanese woman to surf on the CT since Miyuki Onozato in 1996.
"I was excited to compete today but I was also very nervous and now that I have advanced it is a great relief," said Tsuzuki. "I am really enjoying being in Australia and having the opportunity to compete against the world's best is very special to me."
Wave Selection Pays Off
Malia Manuel waited until the last few minutes of her Seeding Round heat against Stephanie Gilmore and Brisa Hennessy to catch two scoring waves and leap from third place into first. This set the tone for the day, with wave selection key and the scores kept relatively subdued by the early low-tide conditions.
Sally Fitzgibbons leaned into all her years of experience and knowledge as she banked the highest two-wave total during the Women's Seeding Round (10.67). She didn't pick the biggest waves, but the ones that allowed her to fit up to five turns in, on a day when being light-footed and energetic proved to be the difference.
Brazil Brings It ... But Heazlewood Steals The Show
Ferreira was among the Brazilian Tour surfers who were excelling in the conditions on offer. Yago Dora opened the Men's Seeding Round with a huge air, and then Filipe Toledo used a combination of searing rail turns and some airs launched into the flats for one of the highest scores of the day, a 13.34. Meanwhile, two-time World Champion Gabriel Medina threw a lofty backside air.
But it was Australia's Reef Heazlewood who was responsible for what was likely the best air of the event, a big straight punt that rocketed him from third to first place in his heat against Jordy Smith and Adrian Buchan.
"I was kind of thinking I'd be going for one when I paddled out, and then when I paddled out, I was like, if you do one, don't claim because you do them all the time but then when I did one I was just frothing," said the Australian, who most certainly deserved to claim that air as enthusiastically as he wanted.