Two-time world champion Gabriel Medina described Merewether surfer Ryan Callinan as a "great competitor" after coming from behind to pip the Novocastrian in the opening round of Bells on Thursday.
Reigning world No.1 Medina made back-to-back scores in the space of three minutes down the final stretch to narrowly overcome Callinan, who had led for most of the heat at the famed Victorian event.
Medina (13.7 points) and Callinan (13) finished top two in the three-man contest and both advance to head-to-head heats in the round of 32 while local Torquay wildcard Harrison Mann (7.87) now faces fellow Australian Owen Wright in an elimination round.
"It's always hard coming up against Ryan [Callinan], he is such a great competitor," Medina told World Surf League media.
"Also, having a local wildcard is scary because they know the waves better than anyone on tour, so it feels good to make it through.
"The waves were a bit slow in that heat so I had to be patient, which can be hard for me because I like to catch lots of waves so I'm definitely glad to have made it through."
Callinan, marking his return to the championship tour in 2019, got out of the blocks quickly and before the halfway mark of the 35-minute battle had posted a 5.83 and 7.17 in his only two waves.
The 26-year-old goofy footy strung together a series of backhand maneuvers on each occasion, featuring five turns on the first and four on the second.
This pushed Callinan well clear of his opponents and World Surf League experts praised his comeback to the top league after debuting in 2016, commenting: "he's a completely different guy" and "it looks like he belongs" and "he's got nothing to lose out there".
With 16 minutes remaining, Medina needed an 8.33 to get past Callinan.
Medina then stepped up and recorded a 7.2 and 6.5 with eight and five minutes left on the clock respectively.
Callinan was unable to bridge the gap in the closing stages.
Only nine of 12 heats were completed in men's competition on a delayed Thursday at Bells, which was predominately held at alternate venue Winkipop in bumpy three-to-four foot conditions.
This means Callinan's upcoming opponent has yet to be confirmed.
Queensland-bred Julian Wilson (13.73), who now calls Newcastle his second home wife Ashley (nee Osborne) and their daughter Olivia, progressed to the third round despite being knocked off by Bells trials winner Jacob Wilcox (13.74).
Bells defending champion Italo Ferreira, 2017 winner Jordy Smith and 11-time world champion Kelly Slater are into round three.