Merewether, NSW — WINDS of change blew through pro-surfing this morning as man-on-man heats were introduced into a World Qualifying Series (WQS) event in just the second round of competition for the first time in history.
And Mother Nature offered her approval on day one of the Mark Richards Pro, with Merewether point offering up clean one-metre waves, a light offshore wind and a cloudless sky.
The conditions provided a welcome relief to organisers, who were plagued with small and inconsistent waves during the first week of Surfest 2009.
Approval of the man-on-man format was also given by the event’s patron, four-time world champion Mark Richards.
“The man-on-man battle is a real battle of skills where each competitor looks to get any edge they can over their opponent,” Richards said.
“Some of my best memories of my competitive surfing life revolve around the mind-games that go on in the water between two hungry wave chasers,” he said.
While the man-on-man format has been long established on the elite World Tour, a new chapter was today added to surfing’s history book when Chris Bennetts and Matt Bemrose paddled out to the iconic Merewether point shortly after 10am.
And the contest had all the hallmarks of a classic state-of-origin battle, with Queenslander Bennetts (Main Beach) (10.25) edging out New South Welshman Bemrose (Curl Curl) (9.25) by just one point.
But while local conditions were terrific, the chance of a local surfer winning the 24th Surfest diminished greatly following a plethora of poor performances.
This morning’s first round saw Merewether board riders Drew Benton and Rhys Smith and Catherine Hill Bay’s Lincoln Robards all failing to fire and immediately exiting the competition.
Benton hardly bothered the judges, scoring a measly total of just 5.75
“I just didn’t surf the way I wanted,” a disappointed Benton said.
“I wanted to get a few quick ones, but that didn’t really happen and in the end I knew it wasn’t enough.”
While Newcastle 15-year-old Ryan Callinan defeated Benton and made it through to the second round where the man-on-man format kicked in, Callinan wouldn’t go any further after coming up against a red hot Noah Lane (Rainbow Bay).
In fact hopes for a first-ever local champion took a massive nose-dive today, with Merewether’s Jackson Richards and Travis Lynch also being eliminated, along with and Sam Lendrum (Catherine Hill Bay).
But it wasn’t all bad news for Hunter hopes, with Duncan McNicol (Caves Beach) and Sam Lendrum (Catherine Hill Bay) winning through to tomorrow’s third round.
The day’s top heat and individual wave score was racked up by Gold Coaster Mitch Crews. The natural-footer, who will turn 19 next month, recorded a 9.5-ride on his way to a heat total of 16.
Thursday morning will see the men’s round of 48 at 7.30am, with the Maitland Toyota Women’s Pro will get underway at around 2.20pm.
For more information, news, media and all your Surfest action please visit www.surfest.com