WORLD No. 2 and defending champion Sally Fitzgibbons says she is prepared for anything Newcastle can throw at her after scrapping then carving her way into the Surfest Women’s Classic final on the harbour today.
In a first for Surfest, competition was moved to Newcastle harbour as fierce on-shore winds and massive swell made Merewether beach and other Newcastle breaks unrideable.
It was also the first time an ASP event has been held in a harbour.
Fitzgibbons and Sunshine Coast’s Dimity Stoyle progressed through quarter and semi-finals in the barreling two-metre waves to make the decider before the Men’s Pro round of 24 was completed at 2.30pm when action was called off for the day.
The site of the women’s final, men’s round of 12, quarter and semi-finals and final will be decided early Sunday morning.
The harbour appears an unlikely venue because it will host a triathlon in the morning and unsuitable, strong north-easterly winds are expected to ruin the unique break.
World champion Joel Parkinson was second in his heat to progress but No.2 seed and 2008 champion Adriano de Souza incurred an interference penalty en route to elimination in the final contest on Saturday.
No.3 seed Julian Wilson and defending champion Willian Cardoso also made it through.
Fitzgibbons, though, was the star of the day, racking up a near perfect score of 19.43 out of 20 in her women’s semi-final against South African Bianca Buitendag (14.17).
However, the Gerroa product was lucky to even be in the semi.
Fitzgibbons needed a 6.52 ride late in her quarter-final to overhaul Hawaiian Alessa Quizon and was given a score of 6.87 after the siren for a last-minute effort.
Commentators wrote off her chances of earning the score and were later surprised to see Fitzgibbons come out for the semi-final.
That was quickly forgotten though as she opened with scores of 9.7, 7, 6.17, 9.23 and 9.93.
She was relieved to be able to show her best after the slow start to the day.
‘‘It was definitely a really close battle with Alessa in the quarter-final and I knew at the end there I needed a score,’’ Fitzgibbons said.
‘‘Getting that last wave with 30 seconds to go, I put everything into it and then I just crossed all my fingers and toes.
‘‘It was really challenging being at a break we’ve never surfed before.
‘‘Obviously you’re in the line-up trying to work things out pretty quickly and get in tune with it.
‘‘I was very happy to squeeze through that first one and open up a little more in the semi-final.
‘‘I really dialled in early and knew I had to get a good start.
‘‘I was really stoked with the conditions.
‘‘It’s great when you lock in a few good ones, a few barrels and some great turn sections you can really open up on.
‘‘We were very lucky to get to surf the harbour today.’’
Surfest may return to a wild Merewether beach for both deciders tomorrow but after her roller-coaster ride today, Fitzgibbons was ready for the challenge.
‘‘We see it all the time in competitive surfing. You’ve just got to adapt to whatever comes on the day and surf it,’’ she said.
‘‘Hopefully there’s something that’s rideable and we’ll have a good crack at it.’’
Stoyle (13.67) blitzed American Sage Erickson 7.33 in the quarters before upsetting Courtney Conlogue 14.94 to 14 in the semis on Saturday.
Conlogue, another American, had been the form surfer of the event and was expected to clash with Fitzgibbons in the decider.
But Stoyle grabbed a 7.77 ride with less than two minutes remaining to take the semi and set-up an all-Australian final.
Fitzgibbons was expecting a close battle against a familiar foe.
‘‘I’ve grown up surfing events with Dimity and from a really young age we’ve had some great heats together, but never on the star-series stage, so it should be a great final,’’ she said.
‘‘She had some great heats today and she should be firing for the final as well.’’
The other star of the harbour was Parkinson, who had the spectators enthralled with his barrel rides late Friday and early on Saturday morning before the contest began.
He pulled off another one in his heat and was hopeful of more great waves on Sunday.
‘‘I had a great time. It’s a great wave,’’ Parkinson said.
‘‘It’s different in competition, but when the waves are good it’s just as fun whether you’re free surfing or surfing in a heat.
‘‘You want to be out there.’’