Kelly Slater leaves Surfest organisers hanging

ONLY Kelly Slater knows for certain whether he is coming to Newcastle for Surfest.

Surfest organisers are very hopeful the 11-time world champion will grace Merewether Beach for the revamped event from March 12, and an announcement is expected within 24 hours regarding the American star.

Slater, who turns 40 on February 11, is the most successful surfer in the history of the sport.

The male with the next best competitive record is four-time world titleholder Mark Richards, who is patron of Surfest.

Slater, an unabashed MR fan, is a previous Newcastle winner and has visited the city irregularly as guest of Richards and the event, which has six-star status on the World Qualifying Series.

No contest on the Australian leg of the world tour has confirmed the enigmatic Slater as a starter, although he is expected on the Gold Coast from February 25 for the top-tier Quiksilver Pro, presented by his major sponsor.

It is not even known if he has decided to challenge for a 12th world title in 2012.

Surfest chief Warren Smith has been negotiating with Slater’s representatives in the US about him entering the Newcastle event, which has been boosted through increased sponsorship.

Slater, who owns property in Sydney, is proving somewhat elusive, though.

Latest reports have him possibly headed for Micronesia from Hawaii, where he had been waiting for swell to hit so Quiksilver can host the Eddie Aikau Memorial big-wave contest.

‘‘I can honestly say that nothing is set in concrete, but all our fingers are crossed,’’ Smith said yesterday.

‘‘As soon as I hear for sure one way or the other, so will everyone else.’’

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