What an exciting day was had by all at the Newcastle RipCurl Surfing Competition at Merewether Beach!
One of the positives of Covid was having to move the International Surfing competition from Bell’s Beach to Merewether beach, Newcastle as Victoria had closed its borders indefinitely.
Entry to the competition was by registering in a ballot draw. We were fortunate enough to receive tickets to this event, so travelled to Merewether Beach with our daughter to spend the day watching these skilled people “ride the waves”.
On arrival it was clear that the event was really professionally managed, in a Covid sense, allowing the freedom to move around but due to the limited number of people allowed to enter the space, was roomy and comfortable. Sitting on the concrete stairs with our coffee, we watched heat after heat of two surfers at a time, take turns riding a wave to the shore, scoring as many points as possible for tactic and style within a twenty-minute period before the next two riders came out for their twenty-minute session
Although the surf was not large at all on this Tuesday, at least the competition was on as over the weekend and the following Wednesday, it had been cancelled due to no waves at all. Tuesday though, was mostly overcast with the darkest grey clouds and heavy rain happening out at sea, making a beautifully dramatic backdrop for all the surfing photos.
Top surfers both men & women from all over the world had arrived in Australia 14 days earlier to complete their Covid isolation before being allowed to leave and travel to Newcastle. What a great opportunity for the Newcastle area to host such a world class event with international media coverage! The first time in 20 years that such a world pro surfing competition had been staged in this city.
As a first timer to this surfing and with no-one to explain the rules as our son was not able to join us due to work commitments, we were left to talk between ourselves and listen to the commentators to try and work out the “rules” of the day. Even though I am still not sure about them, watching these talented surfers (the best in their sport) manipulate their boards through the water and over the waves was a marvel to watch, balance perfect and looking quite at ease gliding over the water to reach the beach, steering the board back into the waves in a zig-zagging movement was most poetic. Michael was standing higher up from us, busily recording the action.
We arrived to see the final heat of the men’s with Jadson Andre from Brazil ranked 25 cutting through the waves for a nice performance, before the women showed that they had what it took. How fortunate were we, as the next heat featured the very impressive Australian, Stephanie Gilmore, currently 4th in the world taking on Macy Callaghan world no. 15 also from Australia, in a great display of extracting every point from the small waves. Stephanie is currently the most dominant women’s surfer in history & has matched Layne Beachley’s record by clinching her seventh World Title at the Beachweaver Maui Pro in 2018. She has also achieved provisional qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics & has a great chance of winning gold for Australia. This fantastic young surfer was the first person ever, both in men’s or women’s competition to win her first World Title in her Rookie year. To see & photograph someone the calibre of this young woman was genuinely exciting.
The next heat, saw an equally impressive duo of Isabella Nicholes from Australia, who is ranked No. 3, take on Brazilian, Tatiana Weston-Webb ranked world No.5. Isabella started surfing at the age of 9 & by 13 had realised that her life’s ambition was to become a professional surfer. In 2015 she achieved her first major win by taking out the Australasia Junior Tour title followed by an impressive clean sweep through the heats to win the World Junior Championships in 2016. Surfing took a back seat in 2017 & 2018 while she completed her final years of school, though she did manage to land a part as a stunt double for Blake Lively in the movie The Shallows but is now again showing that she is a force to be reckoned with in the women’s pro circuit.
Having photographed surfing at Bells Beach before & although the waves were not as big on the day at Newie, the action was just as exciting.
This was an amazing day! If you ever have the chance to watch this international competition, in the flesh, then I highly recommend you do as it is a quite different way to spend the day at the beach.