SALLY Fitzgibbons has taken inspiration from tennis hero Roger Federer to fight back from injury to claim a record-equalling third Surfest women's crown.
Fitzgibbons joined Rebecca Woods and Pam Burridge as the only three-time winners with victory over Coolum's Isabella Nichols in the 35-minute Holmes Civil Developments Pro final 13.5 to 11.7 on Sunday.
The 6000-point World Surf League qualifying series event was the Gerroa 28-year-old's first contest since fracturing her shoulder in the season-ending Maui Pro in November. She had been back surfing just three weeks before Surfest.
She also overcame a back injury sustained on Tuesday while warming up on the beach at Newcastle before a surf. She recovered with treatment to start her Surfest run on Friday and said overcoming the setback "definitely made the win sweeter".
"I was really excited to go around for my morning surf but the body just said 'no'," said Fitzgibbons, who won Surfest in 2016 and 2012.
"I was all locked up down there on the sand thinking 'I'm in a world of pain', but I think the calm comes from having a new team around me now ... I wasn't going to risk everything, but what a thrill to come back and end the week like this."
The world No.6 had to be helped off the beach after suffering back spasms.
"We were pretty ready to pack up and go home and then the Surfest team came to me because they knew how special Newcastle is to me," she said. "I said to [Surfest chief] Warren [Smith] that no matter the circumstances, I've had a ball. He was laughing at me, saying 'you can't even stand, you're on the floor'."
She said the energy of the Newcastle surfing community this week and her summer experiences at the tennis helped keep her calm.
"Hanging with the tennis players and connecting with some of my idols over summer, they are later on in their careers, the Federers and those guys, but they just have this innate calm that all will be OK in the end, and that's part of what I discovered in the off-season," she said.
"It was cool to connect with athletes that are further along in their careers and just feed off that energy."
She said it was special to join Woods and Burridge with three victories.
"I'm so happy to know those names are up there, some of my favourite surfers over the years, and just to be an Aussie and be representing as best you can," she said.
The natural-footer was in control of the final, starting with scores of 6.17 and 5.07 and building her lead with clinical two-turn rides.
Nichols needed an eight-point ride in the final three minutes after Fitzgibbons produced a heat-high 7.33 on her backhand. The runner-up result, though, was still huge for Nichols. The 21-year-old is now in a strong position to push for a spot on next year's top tour.
"Sally's just so good at competing, she knows exactly what to do and pretty much surfs her heats flawlessly and you have to be flawless to beat her," Nichols said. "I wasn't today, but props to her, she surfed really well."
"But it's not a bad way to start the year. It's the best result I've had on the QS, so I'm happy."