More tough conditions have greeted competitors on day two of the Great Lakes Pro presented by Surfers Rescue 24/7 with moderate onshore winds sweeping the four-foot surf at Boomerang Beach.
Conditions aside, the competition was fierce as some of Australia and New Zealand’s best surfers did battle at the opening Qualifying Series event of 2021.
Fresh off receiving the news that she will take a wildcard spot into the upcoming Rip Curl Classic Narrabeen Championship Tour event, Laura Enever has pulled on a WSL competitive jersey for the first time since 2018. After a few years chasing big waves around the globe, Enever’s competitive edge is still sharp with the natural-footer taking out her first heat in dominating form, even eliminating CT competitor Macy Callaghan.
“It’s a surreal feeling to be back competing on the QS and back in the rashie,” Enever said. “I’m travelling with all of the girls I used to, so it’s really cool and I feel like I’ve picked up where I left off. I do feel a bit different this time around. I feel like I learnt a lot in my time away from competing when I was chasing big waves and now during a heat, I can think a lot clearer and just surf. It was really tough out there today, but I managed to find some decent lefts which is a strong point of mine, so it all worked out well.”
The last time Sunny Coaster Sophie McCulloch competed, it was at the Boost Mobile Pro Gold Coast specialty event and she managed to finish runner-up. Now, almost six months later, McCulloch is back in the jersey and looking to nab the top spot in Boomerang. Having overcome some of Australia’s biggest surf stars in her last competitive appearance, Sophie is keen to regain that confidence as she begins her campaign to qualify for the 2021 Challenger Series.
“It’s been tough knowing that I had to try and harness my confidence for such a long time after my final at South Stradbroke Island,” McCulloch said. “That was definitely a highlight of my career and I want to build on it so I’m glad to be back competing. I definitely have a lot of appreciation for the team at WSL and Surfing NSW to have these events up and running for us after such a challenging year. Everyone is so happy to be back competing.”
Event young gun Molly Picklum showed nerves of steel to clinch a heat victory on a wave she caught with only five seconds left in her Round of 32 matchup. The young Central Coaster struggled to find a wave of substance for the entire heat until she stroked into a right-hand runner on the buzzer and tagged it all the way to the beach to grab the lead and progress through the tight heat.
“Surfing heats is always more stressful when conditions are like this,” Picklum said. “There’s no one spot to sit or waves to look for so there’s a lot of luck involved. I just paddled in to find a reform and ended up getting that last one at the end. It was fun having a heat with Kobie (Enright), we are staying together so there has been some good banter over the last couple of days. I’m stoked we both made it through that one though.”
Former World Championship Tour surfer Mitch Crews (Gold Coast, Qld) showed that a year-long absence from competition had done wonders for his rail game as he carved his way into the highest wave score of the event thus far, a near-perfect 9.73 (out of a possible ten points). Crews opted to adopt a different approach than the rest of the field as he sat deep on the point and picked off a series of smaller but punchier waves that allowed for a chain of critical frontside hacks. Crews progressed through the heat alongside junior dynamo Koda Killorn (Maroubra, NSW) who took out the runner-up position.
“When I got down here, I saw a handful of inside peaks that looked a lot more manageable than the section down the beach where the heats before me were sitting,” said Crews. “That first wave I got was a bit of a doozie and really allowed me to open up on it. It was definitely a bit weird having my first 20-minute heat for over a year and I really had no idea what to feel while I was in the heat. The last 12 months I’d gotten used to surfing for hours in my free surfs so it was a bit of an adjustment to try and have a surf in 20 minutes but to get a nine definitely feels good. I think it helps to know where the level is and what the judges are looking for.”
One of the last heats of the day saw another former CT competitor and high seed Soli Bailey take a convincing win with only two waves caught to post a two-wave combination of 15.07. Bailey looked cool, calm and collected in one of his first heats in almost a year, even after he lost his board to submerged rocks on his way out to surf.
“I got pushed down by a set wave on my way out and my leash got caught around some rocks,” Bailey said. “I thought it would slip off but it was really stuck so I had to take my leash off and leave my board. I got swept down the beach and eventually got in to grab a new board and only just got back out for the start of my heat. I got two good waves and that was enough so I’m happy with that. I’m just stoked to be back competing in a WSL event — this is what we love to do and this is the level we need to be at if we want to qualify so I’m glad to be back doing this.”
The elite four-day World Surf League (WSL) Qualifying Series (QS) 1000 rated event is the first of four stops on the Vissla NSW Pro Surf Series.
The four-event series will see three QS1000 rated events (Maroubra, Great Lakes and Port Stephens) and one men’s and women’s QS3000 (Central Coast).
In 2020, the WSL revealed a new format for 2021, which included creating distinct seasons between the QS (the regionalised development tier), the Challenger Series (the global battleground for Championship Tour qualification) and the Championship Tour (the world’s best surfers competing for the World Title).
The new tour structure will provide a more streamlined and affordable career pathway for WSL athletes by allowing up-and-coming surfers to develop closer to home without financially overleveraging themselves. Athletes will compete in their regional QS tour in hopes of qualifying for the Challenger Series (CS), and ultimately the Championship Tour, which will reduce the economic pressure on surfers and their sponsors, as well as provide increased opportunities to celebrate local stars.
The QS will run from January through to July 2021 and determine who has qualified for the CS, which will run from August through to December 2021. Each region will have an allocation of surfers that can qualify for the CS through their regional tour. Athletes will be able to roll over points from 2020 QS events into the current season. Australia/Oceania will receive an allocation of ten men’s and eight women’s spots onto the Challenger Series based on the regional QS rankings.
All events will be webcast through worldsurfleague.com and the WSL App.
For more information on these events head to worldsurfleague.com or check the free WSL App.
2021 Vissla NSW Pro Surf Series Event Schedule
Event 1: Great Lakes Pro, Boomerang Beach, Tuesday 16 – Friday 19 February 2021.
Event 2: Port Stephens Pro, Birubi Beach, Sunday 21 – Tuesday 23 February 2021.
Event 3: Mad Mex Maroubra Pro, Maroubra Beach, Friday 26 – Sunday 28 February 2021.
Event 4: Vissla Central Coast Pro, Avoca Beach, Tuesday 2 – Sunday 7 March 2021.
The 2021 Vissla NSW Pro Surf Series will be proudly supported by the NSW Government through its tourism and major events agency, Destination NSW. The series will also be proudly supported by Vissla, Randwick City Council, Central Coast Council, Mid Coast Council, Port Stephens Council, Mad Mex, Sisstrevolution, Middle Rock Holiday Park, Moby’s Beachside Retreat, Avoca Beach Hotel, WSL and Surfing NSW.