The World Surf League (WSL) 2021 Championship Tour (CT) has arrived in the Hunter ahead of the much-anticipated Rip Curl Newcastle Cup presented by Corona.
The event, which is set to start tomorrow morning (Thursday 1 April) at Merewether Beach, will be the first of four elite CT tournaments to run in Australia over the next two months.
And, while a number of boardriders will boast local knowledge, such as young gun Jackson Baker, wildcard Philippa Anderson and hometown hero Ryan Callinan, spare a thought for current No. 1 and two-time WSL champion John John Florence.
The Hawaiian is not only making his Newcastle debut, he’s preparing for a huge Australian leg as he targets his third title.
“It feels great to be in a society that is close to being COVID-19-free,” Florence said.
“I definitely feel ready and excited to start competing again tomorrow.
“With four events over the coming two months, it’s really reassuring to the Tour for this season.
“And, with the Olympics as well, this year having these events up and running is the best way for me to prepare for the Tokyo Games.
“I’m competing here against the best surfers in the world and that’s the ideal preparation.”
Australian two-time WSL champion Tyler Wright comes to Newcastle ranked first on the planet.
She’s keen to maintain that spot when the competition culminates in the next fortnight.
Having booked finals berths at Qualifying Series events in Newcastle before, Wright is excited to take on the new CT venue for the opening event of the CT Australian leg.
“Starting our 2021 season here in Newcastle and running four events back-to-back in Australia just seems like the right and logical decision for our sport,” she said.
“COVID-19 has thrown a spanner in the works of our sport and this is our way out.
“To be competing again on the WSL Championship Tour is great.
“These new venues are also exciting to us and Newcastle has been a really pleasant welcoming experience.”
Reigning four-time WSL world champion Carissa Moore, from Hawaii, is poised for a massive 2021 with her eyes not only on a fifth crown but also on Olympic Gold as surfing looks to make its Olympic debut in Tokyo later this year.
A confidence-building result will be what she is looking for in Newcastle.
But, she’ll have a tough start to her campaign, coming up against Sage Erickson (USA) and local wildcard Anderson in her opening round heat.
“I love being in Australia,” Moore said.
“Fourteen days of quarantine was difficult but now we’re released into what is much more a normal society without COVID-19 feels really cool.
“I’m super excited to compete again.
“We lost momentum last year but now with four events in front of us, we are all really pumped, a little nervous for sure but excited as well.”
Another world titleholder who will have the task of taking on a local wildcard is reigning WSL champion Italo Ferreira, from Brazil, who has matched up with Merewether standout Baker and 2021 CT Rookie Jack Robinson.
However, all eyes will be on Heat 10 of seeding round one as Callinan hits the water at his home break.
The last time an event was contested for World Title Points in Newcastle, he wasn’t even born.
And, with no Novacastian male ever claiming victory at their major local event, the Hunter fan base will have high hopes for Callinan to make history in Newcastle this week.