JOEL Parkinson will revive his love affair with Surfest next month and join the likes of six-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore and 2016 winner Sally Fitzgibbons as headline acts at Merewether.
While Surfest officials remained tight-lipped ahead of an announcement on Wednesday, the Newcastle Herald was told Parkinson will return to Surfest’s 6000-point World Surf League qualifying series contest after missing it last year.
Parkinson, who will start 2017 as world No.9, competed at Surfest in 2012 after a decade-long absence from the event. He was an early casualty but went on to claim the world title that year and returned to Surfest in 2013 a hero. In his first contest as a world champion, the Gold Coast natural-footer claimed his maiden Surfest title.
He returned in 2014 and 2015 but was a notable absentee last year when Central Coast’s Matt Wilkinson held the Mark Richards Trophy aloft.
Wilkinson is another confirmed starter for the February 20-26 event and will be the top seed after finishing the 2016 championship tour in fifth place.
The Herald understands world No.8, Queenslander Julian Wilson, has entered along with 2014 Surfest champion and Port Macquarie product Matt Banting and 2015 runner-up and second-year championship tour surfer Jack Freestone.
In the women’s 6000-point contest, which has again been backed through a successful crowd-funding campaign, Fitzgibbons will try to join Pam Burridge and Rebecca Woods as three-time winners at Surfest.
Gilmore, who was runner-up last year to Fitzgibbons, is also tipped to return and attempt to add to her 2008 title.
The Australian stars will face a strong field including 2007 winner and two-time world title runner-up, Brazilian Silvana Lima, who is returning to the championship tour this year.
Hawaiian world No.7 Malia Manuel, the 2014 Surfest champion, is another CT surfer making the trip to Merewether again.
The presence of Fitzgibbons and Gilmore in the decider was a highlight of Surfest 2016, which enjoyed a bumper crowd and swell for the Sunday finals.
Parkinson’s return will be a welcome boost for the men’s competition, which lacked world champion star power last year.
Surfest’s main events are the first 6000-point QS contests of the season and this year have the Australian Boardriders Battle national finals weekend and Australian Surfing Awards night as curtain-raisers in Newcastle.
The February 17-19 ABB finals, which will feature Merewether Surfboard Club, will be held at Newcastle Beach, while Australia’s best of 2016 will be honoured at Newcastle Exhibition Centre on February 18.
The Surfest carnival started last Saturday with Merewether’s two-time pro junior champion Jake Sylvester winning the men’s wildcard trial and 13-year-old Zahli Kelly the women’s berth at One Mile Beach.
Surfest will hold its official launch at Redhead Surf Lifesaving Club on Friday ahead of the Lake Macquarie Festival of Surfing on the weekend.
The Surfest Surfboard Club Team Challenge will continue the carnival the following weekend at Stockton.