Merewether Surfboard Club will be without spearhead Ryan Callinan for this weekend's Australian Boardriders Club national final at Newcastle because of an injury setback before his return to the championship tour.
Already without their No.2 men's surfer Jackson Baker because of an ankle strain, Merewether lost Callinan due to a rib injury.
Callinan was set to begin his competitive year at the ABB decider before warming up at Surfest's Burton Automotive Pro qualifying series event at Merewether from March 11-17 for the CT opener at Snapper Rocks from April 3.
However, the injury has put those plans in doubt.
Callinan starred for Merewether last year at the ABB national final when the club finished a close second to Mikey and Tyler Wright's Culburra Beach Boardriders.
Merewether team manager Tim Ryan said Callinan should be right for Surfest, and if not, he would be fit for Snapper Rocks.
"He did some rib cartilage damage up on the Gold Coast last weekend and he'll recover," Ryan said.
"We're still fine-tuning the team now and it will be a good side. We've still got belief we can win, but it's just a shame when you lose your top two surfers to injury.
"But the No.1 thing for those guys is their careers. That's what we care about, and if they can't surf for us one weekend, it's no big deal."
On Wednesday, men's world No.2 and part-time Novocastrian Julian Wilson was announced as Surfest's headline act.
Entries closed this week for Surfest’s men’s and women’s contests, which remain at 6000-point level on the World Surf League QS.
Top seed Wilson was a semi-finalist at Surfest in 2013 but has since competed at the event just once, in 2017, when an early casualty.
The 30-year-old now calls Merewether his second home with wife and Novocastrian model Ashley.
The Queenslander finished second last year in the world championship race to Gabriel Medina, who clinched the title at the season-ending Pipe Masters.
Wilson will kick off his 2019 competition season at Merewether, adding star power to the fight for the Mark Richards Trophy.
Fellow Australians Owen Wright (No.6) and Wade Carmichael (No.9) are other top 10 championship tour competitors making the trip.
Australian CT surfers Soli Bailey and Jack Freestone have also entered, as have Brazilians Jadson Andre and Jesse Mendes, American Griffin Colapinto, France's Joan Duru, Italian Leonardo Fioravanti and Kiwi Ricardo Christie.
World No.4 Tatiana Weston-Webb, now competing for Brazil, tops the women’s seedings for the Holmes Civil Developments Pro.
Two-time Surfest champion Sally Fitzgibbons (No.6), Nikki Van Dijk (No.10) Johanne Defay (No.5) and Caroline Marks (No.7) headline a strong field. Central Coast CT rookie Macy Callaghan, West Australian Bronte Macaulay, New Zealand’s Paige Hareb and Costa Rican Brissa Hennessy are other CT surfers entered, along with defending champion Coco Ho and Malia Manuel (No.9).
More than 300 surfers from 29 countries entered the men’s and women’s events, forcing organisers to run trials on Sunday, March 10 to finalise the main draws.
As expected, defending men’s champion Mikey Wright and 2018 women's runner-up Tyler Wright are not returning because of injury and illness respectively.
“I can’t recall this many countries being represented and it’s a massive show of support for Surfest to get over 300 entries,” organiser Warren Smith said.
“Few, if any, of the surfers who will compete at the Burton Automotive Pro and the Holmes Civil Developments Pro had even been born when Surfest first started, but the sense of history around the biggest surf festival in the southern hemisphere continues to draw both successful and emerging athletes to Newcastle.”