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2017 Maitland and Port Stephens Toyota Pro Kicks off at Merewether Beach Last years Finalists Sally Fitzgibbons and Stephanie Gilmore. Pic: WSL/Sproule

2017 Maitland and Port Stephens Toyota Pro Kicks off at Merewether Beach

The 2017 Maitland and Port Stephens Toyota Pro has kicked off today at the beautiful Merewether Beach in Newcastle. The event runs in conjunction with Newcastle’s Surfest is the first WSL Qualifying Series (QS) 6000 event of the season meaning it has attracted a huge international field including some of the Sports biggest names. Day 1 saw the completion of  Men’s Round 1 in clean 2 foot waves. The Anditi Women’s Pro was off for the day and looks like getting under way tomorrow.

Although the Anditi Women’s Pro didn’t run on Day 1, a few of the top women surfers came down to the beach to check out the action. Including six time World Champion Stephanie Gilmore. Gilmore who won the event in 2008 and finished runner-up last year.

“It’s great to be back in Newcastle,” Gilmore said. “I love coming back to compete here, it’s such a cool City. I had a good break after Hawaii and spent some time away from surfing, which was nice. Now it is time to get back in the swing of things and there isn’t a better place for that than the Anditi Women’s Pro here at Merewether.“

After just sneaking back onto the Championship Tour in 2017, Gold Coaster Jack Freestone has a lot to prove in 2017. Freestone found that he put a lot of pressure on himself in 2016 and hopes to go into this season as a more relaxed competitor.

“Last year was good for me but I’m hoping for a more solid year in 2017,” Freestone said. “I want to try and relax and enjoy myself a bit more and I think if I can do that the results will follow. I’m really looking forward to getting out there to compete.”

Less than six months after retiring from the elite Championship Tour (CT), Kai Otton made a return to competition at Merewether in Round 1 of the Maitland and Port Stephens Toyota Pro. Although Otton is not chasing qualification points he still surfed with the attitude of someone that is in it to win it. Otton only caught two waves to post a heat total of 13.33 and progress into Round two.

“Newcastle is only up the road for me so it was a pretty easy decision to come up and compete,” Otton said.  “I thought I might have been seeded into a later round so it was a bit of shock when I saw that I was competing in Round 1. Competing for me is fun so that’s why I’m here, to have fun. I’m certainly not chasing the QS, it’s just close to home so it was a no brainer to come.”

Local Jackson Baker hasn’t had the best luck at his home event in the past. Baker actually hasn’t made a heat at the event and today he paddled out with changing that in mind. Baker posted a heat total of 12.94 to progress into Round 2 where he will meet fellow Novocastrian Ryan Callinan.

“Today was the first heat I’ve ever made at this event,” Baker said. “I’m super stoked to get the monkey off my back and I’m feeling confident going into the next round. I’ll be surfing against my good friend and training partner Ryan Callinan – which will be cool. Hopefully the local boys can move through.”

Although this is the first QS6,000 event for the year, there has been a number of lower rated 1000 and junior events taking place around Australia. Reef Heazlewood has been competing in a number of these events and with some seriously strong results. Heazlewood continued his roll today taking out his Round 1 heat with a solid display of forehand and backhand surfing.

“It’s been a busy start to the year but I feel like I’m just armed up,” Heazlewood said. “I have some good strategies done now so I’m feeling confident in my competition game plan now. There are a lot of guys in this contest that I look up to so I want to go as far as possible and hopefully take down some big names.”

For more information head to www.WorldSurfLeague.com or check out the WSL app.

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