Top seed Julian Wilson is hoping to win for his new friends in his adopted home of Newcastle when the Surfest Newcastle Pro is decided on Sunday.
And judging by his demolition job in small surf across two heats on Friday, the world No.11 shapes as the man to beat in the 5000-point qualifying series event at Merewether.
Wilson started the men's round of 48 with a 16.83 two-wave total to down Frenchman Joan Duru (12.37) and Harley Ross (10.93).
He repeated the dose against Liam O'Brien and former Surfest champion Alejo Muniz (8.1), scoring a 15.77 total with a mix of fast, powerful carves and big airs.
The highlight of his afternoon heat was a massive front-side air reverse for an 8.17.
The 31-year-old faces Mitch Crews in the round of 16, which is scheduled for Sunday. The women's competition will conclude on Saturday.
Wilson hails from Coolum in Queensland but now has a home in Merewether with his wife, Newcastle model Ashley (nee Osborne), and their two children.
He was a semi-finalist at Surfest in 2013 and said "it would be awesome" to take out the event on Sunday.
"I've come close before. I think I've had a third," Wilson said of the event.
"It's at the start of the year and it's great timing to get a win. I am living here now and I do have a great amount of support. It's been unreal, so I'd love to win it for my friends that I've got here and give back to the support I've been getting.
"The level of competition here is really high, so it's good. I obviously live just up the road now and just coming down and surfing some heats against some of the best guys in the world, it's a great warm-up for the year."
Wilson, who is set to represent Australia at surfing's Olympic debut in Tokyo in July, is competing for the first time this year as he prepares for the championship tour opener on the Gold Coast on March 26.
"I've felt good," he said of his form at Surfest.
"I feel like I've been able to make the most of just about all the opportunities I've had so far, which is really positive. I'm just kind of itching to keep surfing heats and I'm glad that the year's started and I can get the ball rolling.
"I've been enjoying it. The waves have been fun so far. Hopefully today I think is going to be the smallest conditions that we get and we should have some good waves again on the weekend."
World No.14 and fellow Merewether local Ryan Callinan also progressed to Sunday with a win in the last heat of Friday, but clubmate Morgan Cibilic exited.
Callinan won a tight aerial battle with South African Beyrick De Vries 12.4 to 12.1 as Cibilic (9.9) lost out. A CT rookie this year, Cibilic needed a 6.77 from a last-minute wave to progress ahead of De Vries but he fell short.
Callinan faces American Nat Young in the round of 16. The pair finished one and two in their round of 48 heat in the morning, consigning Merewether's Jackson Baker to third and elimination.
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