The stage has been set for Finals Day at the Oakberry Tweed Coast Pro World Surf League (WSL) Qualifying Series (QS) 5000 event. A drop in swell at Cabarita Headland didn't detract from the excitement as Australia and New Zealand's best did battle in clean two-to-three foot surf.
The opening heat of the women's Quarterfinals saw somewhat of an upset as local hopeful Zahli Kelly took down former Championship Tour competitor and current regional rankings leader Macy Callaghan. As conditions slowed, the heat would be all about who found a rhythm in the small surf and from the outset, it was Kelly who found the best waves time after time. Having only made it past the Round of 16 once in 2022, it was Quarterfinals or bust for Kelly at her home event. With a spot in the Semifinals, she will no doubt have a massive weight off her shoulders going into Finals Day.
"I really needed to get a good result here or my season was in trouble," Kelly said. "I said to myself that I needed to make it to the Quarterfinals at least so I'm super relieved to make that one. It was always going to be tough against Macy - she is so polished both as a surfer and as a competitor so I had to try and play at her game to beat her. It was our first one on one heat against each other so I'm super happy to get the win."
Kiwi competitor Kehu Butler locked in his best result of the year so far with a Quarterfinals berth at the Oakberry Tweed Coast Pro. After a slow start to the year, the powerful young natural footer finished in equal 5th in Avoca and will look to go a couple better as he flies the flag for New Zealand on Finals Day at Cabarita.
"I'm Really happy to make it through that heat, it was such a close one," Butler said. "I train for those exact moments where all you need to do is focus on yourself and what you need to do so I'm glad it paid off just now. It's great to be here with the other Kiwi surfers. We're all hanging out as a crew, throwing the ball around like we're "All Blacks" (NZ National Rugby Team) which is fun - just keeps the mood fun. I'm stoked to be in the finals, I'm just keen to keep going the way I have been and see where it takes me in the Quarters."
Earlier in the day, Championship Tour competitor Ethan Ewing locked himself a spot into the Quarterfinals with a trademark display of his pitch perfect rail game that surf fans the world over have grown to love. In his Round of 16 heat, Ewing only caught 2 waves in the 25 minute matchup to take the win and continue in the contest. With all of these extra reps in the contest jersey, Ewing is sending a shot across the bow of his CT opponents ahead of the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach set to commence in just over 2 weeks.
"It's pretty small today but the waves are good when they come," Ewing said. "I'm glad to make it through to the Quarterfinals. Coming into this event I really wanted to surf as many heats as possible as I haven't surfed that many this year. Every heat you surf is more experience and something new to learn so it's good to get time in the water and get fit before heading down to Bells. I'd much rather be busy during my heats but I tend to end up waiting - as long as I get the wave I'm waiting for and surf it well it shouldn't matter, but I'd definitely rather be busy."
Former CT competitor Keely Andrew had her work cut out for her when she came up against event standout and former Quarterfinalist at Cabarita, Sierra Kerr. It was a matchup of contrasting styles as Andrew is renowned for her speed and finesse on rail, while Kerr for her fins free and aerial surfing, making it an enjoyable matchup on paper. In the end, the veteran Andrew showed her experience getting off to a quick start and never looking back, leaving 15-year-old Kerr left chasing and unable to get the job done, giving her another equal 5th place finish at Caba.
"That was a really nerve racking heat coming up against Sierra," Andrew said. "I know she could basically pull an air on anything and lock in a solid score and that I would have to play to my differences which is my speed on rail. It worked today and I'm into the Semifinals which feels great. Knowing that Snapper opens the CS season is the biggest motivator to lock in a spot in the top 5 - it's my favourite wave. I want to carry this momentum into Newcastle and hopefully all the way there."
Andrew will surf off against an inform Sophie McCulloch while Zahli Kelly will take on Dimity Stoyle in the Semifinals.
Other men's Quarterfinalists will include Chris Zaffis, Kyuss King, Oscar Berry, Sheldon Simkus, Joel Vaughan and Mikey McDonagh.
Event organisers will reconvene at Cabarita Headland tomorrow morning at 7:30 am local time to call on competition with the Men's Quarterfinals likely to commence proceedings.
The Oakberry Tweed Coast Pro is supported by the NSW Government's Regional Events Acceleration Fund which supports events in regional areas, where they will have a positive impact on local economies, along with Oakberry Acai, Harvey Norman, Bond University and Tweed Shire Council.
The upcoming Oakberry Tweed Coast Pro will run on the beautiful Tweed Coast from March 21 - 27 2022.