The first of a seven-day competition kicked off at the Men's and Women's ASP 6-Star Burton Toyota Pro and Hunter Ports Women's Classic in windy three foot waves at Merewether Beach in Newcastle, Australia. The 2014 Burton Toyota Pro hosts surfers from over 20 countries, proving the 2014 Newcastle event has developed in to one of the biggest competitions throughout the event's 29 year history.
Jack Freestone (Gold Coast, QLD/AUS) got off to an excellent start in Newcastle at the ASP 6-Star Burton Toyota Pro. Freestone comfortably won his opening round heat defeating fellow Australian Ty Watson (South Coast, NSW/AUS), who advanced in second position with Thiago Guimaraes (BRA) and Steven Pierson (PYF) eliminated in third and fourth. Freestone is now through to Round 2 of the event that has five rounds before the Quarterfinals and a massive field of 144 surfers and runs all the way through finals day on Sunday.
"It's great to have back-to-back ASP 6-Stars in Australia to start the year," Freestone said. "If you get a couple of good results it can really set up your whole year. I had a shocker in the last event, I had a hard heat and I was beaten, so I really want to do well here. There were more positives to take away from that event than negatives, so as long as I keep improving then I'm happy. I'm feeling good here with some decent scores in tough conditions."
Cahill Bell-Warren (Torquay, VIC/AUS) put his foot to the floor in his opening heat at the ASP 6-Star Burton Toyota Pro. Commentators mentioned the similarity between the surf here at Merewether today and high tide Bells, so it's no wonder that Bell-Warren was able to post an excellent 8-point-ride.
"I don't really want to talk about the heat or surfing well," Bell-Warren said. "I have a history of getting through the opening round and then being eliminated. I just need to concentrate on the next round. Hopefully you can come and interview me after winning through Round 5 later this week."
Koa Smith (HAW) received top honours for highest single wave score with a near-perfect 9.57 (out of a possible 10). Smith picked off a pearler of a wave and then proceeded to unload a variety of powerful carves, snaps and turns from right out the back, all the way into the shore.
"At least there's non-stop waves here today," Smith said. "I arrived here last night and it wasn't even ankle high, so when I came this morning and saw some fun waves I was relieved. It's such a big playing field, when you're out there it's hard to know where to sit, even when you're paddling out you can catch a re-form that could end up being the best wave of the heat. Mid-way through I only had one wave and I knew I needed to do something and then I saw a really good set coming. I baited Ian Gouveia into the first one and then I saw that the second one had a really long wall on it. I tried not to over think it, I just went one turn at a time and at the end I was all the way in. It was a leg burner for sure."
Miguel Tudela (PER) came flying out of the gates early, locking in an excellent 8.50 (out of a possible 10), putting pressure on the other three surfers to fight for second place. Tudela used his lethal backside attack to secure a spot in Round 2 where he will take on Carlos Munoz (CRI), Caio Ibelli (BRA) and Maroubra's Monty Tait (AUS).
"I'm pretty happy with an 8.50 on my first wave," Tudela said. "I couldn't hear what was happening until after I caught my third wave and I heard them say I had a big score and a six for a back-up. After that I settled down because it gave me confidence to wait and get the good ones. You have to be lucky out there, it's hard to know what ones will be good when you're paddling in."
Ricardo Christie (NZL) posted one of the highest two-wave heat-totals 16.26 (out of a possible 20) for superior wave selection and old fashioned power carving. Christie will now take on 2014 ASP WCT rookie Mitch Crews (AUS), 2014 Hunter Business Boardriders Pro Junior Champion Cooper Chapman (AUS) and Shun Murakami (JPN) in the next round.
"You really have to get the right waves to get good scores," Christie said. "It's a bit of luck, I had no idea when I was paddling in if they'd be good waves. I just looked for waves that had a good first section, because then at least you can fit one good turn in. Luckily I had a few good sections on the way through. I've been coming to Newcastle for about seven years, since I was a junior. I love it here, it's one of my favourite places in Australia."
2012 ASP World Champion and ASP 6-Star Burton Toyota Pro men's No. 1 seed Joel Parkinson (AUS) is also the defending event champion and will will hit the water in the first heat of the next round to take on James McMorland (AUS), Brent Dorrington (AUS) and Ty Watson (AUS).
The international field of competitors also features Wiggolly Dantas (BRA), Granger Larson (HAW), Dane Reynolds (USA), Marc Lacomare (FRA) and in the Hunter Ports Women's Classic - Alana Blanchard (HAW), Bianca Buitendag (ZAF), Paige Hareb (NZL) and many more of the top surfers in the world who are looking to get off to an early lead on the 2014 ASP Qualifying Series.
For more information, live webcast and photos log on to www.surfest.com