Two of Australia's great hopes in competitive surfing are preparing for the biggest event of their careers at the inaugural Port Stephens Toyota NSW Pro Women's QS6,000. With varying goals on the line at this stage of the year, Zahli Kelly and Macy Callaghan are aiming for separate achievements -- but it doesn't change the importance of the women's Qualifying Series finale for each of these future stars.
At only 15, NSW North Coast native Kelly has already had a stellar competitive season. She won two events on the WSL Australia/Oceania Junior Qualifying Series to become regional Champion and locked herself a spot in the 2017 World Junior Championships. Although qualifying points are not especially important to her at this stage of her career, Zahli is excited to have the opportunity to compete alongside some of her idols.
"I'm super stoked and honored to have received the wildcard spot from WSL," Kelly said. "It's really exciting to compete against the best women surfers in the world. It gives me an opportunity to step up and push my competitive surfing to another level."
Having already achieved her competitive goals for 2017 and then some, Kelly is hoping to soak up her experience surfing in a QS6,000 event and utilise the lessons learned when she heads to Kiama in January for her first World Junior Championships.
"What I will gain most from this experience will be feeling more comfortable surfing against the best in the world," Kelly continued. "I think the more I get the opportunity to have heats against the top women the more it will feel just like any other heat. When you feel comfortable you always surf your best."
Someone who was in a similar position to Zahli last year is current Women's World Junior Champion Macy Callaghan. Callaghan went from regional JQS champion to winning the World Junior Title in Kiama earlier this year. She now heads to Port Stephens with a chance to qualify for the elite Championship Tour in 2018.
"This event is really important to me and to a lot of girls that are on the cusp of qualifying for the CT," Callaghan said. "There are a lot of points on offer and the ratings are very close so it will be very exciting. I have never actually surfed at Birubi so I'm excited to check it out. It is close to home so I'm feeling pretty good."
In her first year as a full-fledged QS surfer, Callaghan knows how important these QS6,000 events are. With only six QS6,000s on the 2017 calendar every event is important, but none more so than the grand finale at Port Stephens.
"This event is so important for the women as we don't have that many QS,6000 events so these points are seriously vital," Callaghan continued. "I've had some great results this year but it has been really hard. I'm feeling good and can't wait for the last event to kick off."
Having witnessed the rise of Callaghan over the last 18 months, WSL Australia/Oceania Regional Manager Will Hayden-Smith is all to aware how pivotal the opportunity given to Zahli at this event can be in the scheme of her career.
"The Qualifying Series can be a daunting prospect for young aspiring professional surfers," he said. "So WSL Australia/Oceania is excited to give opportunities to compete at home for future stars the likes of Zahli Kelly and Macy Callaghan. There's a lot of exciting storylines heading into this final women's QS6,000, with big names likes Sage Erickson and Coco Ho attending, qualification spots on the line for Macy and Philippa Anderson, Paige Hareb and many more. Plus the testing of the waters for loads of young future stars. I'm really looking forward to this inaugural event."