- WSL / Darren Anderson

Day 4 of competition at the Burton Automotive & Speaking in Colour Pro World Surf League (WSL) Qualifying Series (QS) 5,000 has seen the field narrowed with the Round of 16 decided in both the men's and women's events. Competitors battled in tough two-to-three foot wind-affected conditions at Merewether Beach.

Alister Reginato Alister Reginato - WSL / Darren Anderson

After missing out on a Challenger Series spot in 2022, Sunshine Coast dynamo Reef Heazlewood (AUS) made his intentions clear in 2023; to qualify for the CS in the top spot. Today the exciting young goofy-footer took a step in the right direction, progressing into the Round of 16 with a two-wave total of 15.87 (out of a possible 20), the highest of the event so far. The win was even more impressive because Reef had to overcome Dylan Moffat (AUS), who posted a 14.33 two-wave total, another of the highest of the event.

"My goal this year is to win the regional QS," Heazlewood said. "Missing last year was tough, and I feel like I was surfing with too much confidence, so I'm keen to come into this event with a bit more focus. It felt good to post some decent scores, and when I saw that wind come up from the south and saw Hughie (Vaughan) launching, I knew that's what was on the cards. I'm looking forward to the next few days and want to build through my next few heats."

Reef Heazlewood Reef Heazlewood - WSL / Darren Anderson

Central Coast youngster Hughie Vaughan (AUS) continued his impressive form at Merewether, posting the second-highest heat total of the event so far with a 14.90 for two back-to-back full rotation backside air-reverse. 14-year-old Vaughan progressed through the heat in the top spot alongside Alister Reginato (AUS), who is one step closer to locking in spot on the Challenger Series for 2023. Although he was eliminated by a competitor over two decades his junior, former CT legend Nathan Hedge (AUS) was gracious enough to chair Hughie Vaughan up the beach for his efforts.

"That was pretty cool coming up against Hedgey," Vaughan said. "He is a legend of the sport and it was a cool experience to compete with him, and then to get chaired up the beach by him was unexpected. I knew all those guys would be tough to beat, so I was stoked to land those two backside airs. I knew they'd be good scores."

Hugh Vaughan Hugh Vaughan. - WSL / Darren Anderson

West Aussie upstart Willow Hardy (AUS) has put herself in the Challenger Series qualification conversation with an impressive win in the Round of 32 at the Speaking in Colour Pro. Hardy looked sharp on both her frontside and backside as she took out the heat with a two-wave total of 11.20 (out of a possible 20). With Philippa Anderson and Nyxie Ryan (AUS) falling out of the draw early, Hardy has a massive opportunity to move above them on the rankings as she currently sits in seventh.

"I haven't really considered Challenger Series qualification," Hardy said. "I've just been focused on getting experience competing on the QS, but if I ended up qualifying, I would be pretty happy with that. My goal has been to finish in the top 10, so anything better than that is a bonus. I haven't looked at the rankings because I hate hoping other people get eliminated, and girls like Nyxie are my good friends. Newcastle has been amazing. I love it here with all the friendly locals; it's a great place."

Willow Hardy Willow Hardy. - WSL / Darren Anderson

WSL Asia rankings leader Ketut Agus (INA) continued to charge towards Finals Day and lock in a spot on the CS once again with another impressive heat win at Merewehter. Agus progressed through the Round 32 with Japan's Hiroto Ohhara (JPN) as the pair dispatched of Aussies Marlon Harrison and Morgan Cibilic.

Dimity Stoyle (AUS), Sarah Baum (RSA), Mia Huppatz (AUS), Ellie Harrison (AUS) and Zahli Kelly (AUS) all kept their hopes of CS qualification alive with solid performances on Day 4 of competition, while Japan's Nanaho Tsuzuki (JPN) looks likely to nab the top spot on the Asia regional rankings.

The 2023 Burton Automotive and Speaking in Colour Pro WSL QS 5,000 event will run from March 20 - 26, 2023.

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