Surfest chasing biggest names

ORGANISER Warren Smith is confident the 28th edition of Surfest will feature enough high-profile drawcards to ensure Merewether beach is the centre of attention next month.

"I'm hoping to see some of the best surfers in the world coming to Newcastle," Smith said yesterday.

"Hopefully we'll be in a position to announce something later in the week.

"Entries close on Wednesday lunchtime . . . we'll have to wait and see, but I'm pretty happy with where we're at."

Smith declined to speculate on names, but the Newcastle Herald reported last month that newly crowned world champion Joel Parkinson would be a Surfest target.

Other stars rumoured to be on the wish-list include former world champion Mick Fanning and West Australian Taj Burrow.

Veteran Mark Occhilupo, a two-time former Surfest winner, confirmed last week he would be making a surprise appearance at the age of 46.

The women's event is likely to include most of the top 15 on the world rankings.

Smith said Surfest 2013 would be "Australia's biggest surfing festival", featuring 12 events, starting with a tag-team challenge on February 1 and culminating in the men's final on February 24.

Both the men's and women's main events are six-star Association of Surfing Professional tournaments, featuring prizemoney of $US155,000 ($149,400) and $US40,000 respectively.

The preliminaries kicked off yesterday with qualifying trials at Birubi beach.

Anna Bay's Chris Michalak used his local knowledge to win the open men's trials and secure a wildcard berth in the 144-strong field contesting the Mark Richards Trophy.

In tricky one-metre conditions, Michalak excelled, posting a tally of 19.5 from a possible 20 with his two scoring waves.

In the women's trials, Merewether's Sara Phelan won to earn wildcard entry into the women's classic.

Phelan faces a tough first-up assignment, as she will surf in a four-woman heat that includes the No. 1 seed in the field of 48.

James McMoreland (Caves Beach) won the under-20 trials to qualify for the pro junior, while Anna Bay duo Zane Clifford (under 16) and Lucas Hill (under 14) secured invitations into the cadet cup.

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