Newcastle will host a major surfing event that will attract the world's best surfers in April, injecting an estimated $15 million into the local economy.
Deputy Premier John Barilaro was at Merewether on Saturday to announce the event, saying the NSW government had secured the opening round of the Australian leg of World Surf League's 2021 championship tour.
The championship tour is surfing's premier competition. The event will be held in Newcastle from April 1 to 11.
"Newcastle has a long history when it comes to surfing - some of the greats and champions," Mr Barilaro said.
"The opportunity here is to showcase Newcastle to about 10 million viewers globally. And Newcastle is a global city. It was the perfect fit for this.
"Plus, I give credit to the mayor and council for being absolutely proactive. They were able to do this in a timeline that allowed us to make decisions."
The NSW government and City of Newcastle will sponsor the event, but the funding amount is "commercial in confidence", Mr Barilaro said.
Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said the event was "a massive coup for Newcastle".
"It's going to provide a real boost to our hospitality and tourism sector. We'll be able to promote our city again on the world stage," Cr Nelmes said.
"The first WSL [World Surf League] event of the year will have a spotlight on the City of Newcastle. It will also be wonderful for local businesses. The economic injection is estimated at around $15 million into our local economy. I think that's probably a conservative estimate."
Cr Nelmes said the surfers would follow "strict COVID quarantine procedures, coming in through Sydney, organised through the NSW government and WSL".
"Prior to the event starting, I think we'll have a good week before that where we'll have all the international competitors calling Newcastle home," she said.
She said the City of Newcastle's major events development fund would sponsor the event.
The council will work closely with Surfest founder Warren Smith.
"He will be organising and delivering the event for the WSL," Cr Nelmes said.
"He has almost 40 years' experience running surfing events in Newcastle."
The event's main beach will be Merewether, but "depending on surf conditions over the 10 days, they might use other beaches along that stretch," Cr Nelmes said.
She said fans would be allowed to watch the event at the beaches "depending on any public health orders".
"Warren is working on a COVID-safe plan."
This year's Surfest was cancelled due to concerns about safety and meeting the required COVID-19 protocols
"They [Surfest] had to make a call months in advance. The festival of surfing that they run has huge competitor numbers and runs over many different sites and goes for well over a month," Cr Nelmes said.
"It's very different to one WSL event."
The event raises hopes of a way out of the pandemic, given that many events have been cancelled over the past year.
With vaccines on the way, Mr Barilaro said: "We've learnt a lot since the outbreak of COVID".
"There's no playbook on how you manage a global pandemic. In 2021, the difference is we'll accept there will be outbreaks at times, but the vaccine is here and will take a year to roll out.
"You've got to come back to a level of normality."
The event is expected to attract 52 of the best international surfers, including Kelly Slater, John John Florence, Stephanie Gilmore, Tyler Wright, Carissa Moore and Gabriel Medina.
Mr Barilaro said the surfers would get "no special favours".
"They'll do 14 days in quarantine [in Sydney]. We're confident in our quarantine procedures. Then we get on with events. Events will drive domestic tourism. That's the key."
Merewether stars Ryan Callinan and Morgan Cibilic and adopted Novocastrian Julian Wilson are expected to compete in the event.
Cr Nelmes said Newcastle surfers Jackson Baker and Philippa Anderson had been given wildcards.
"They're pretty excited. It's a wonderful opportunity for them," she said.
Stuart Ayres, the NSW Minister for Jobs, Investment and Tourism, said Newcastle had "world-class waves".
Mr Ayres said the event would show Newcastle to "new audiences and potential visitors"
"This is a huge opportunity to promote Newcastle," he said.
While the pandemic is still preventing international tourism, Mr Ayres said the event would put Newcastle in the minds of many surfing fans and "start the all-important dreaming phase of planning a holiday for when we can welcome international visitors again".
Newcastle gained the event after the Sunset Open in Hawaii and the Santa Cruz Pro in California were cancelled due to COVID.
"NSW was seen as an ideal and reliable destination to salvage the competition," Mr Barilaro said.
"NSW has demonstrated its ability to host COVID-safe events and our government's confidence to get businesses in Sydney and the regions back on track. This event will be another important step forward in our state's recovery from the pandemic."
Mr Barilaro said there was only a few months to go until surfing makes its debut at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
"This event gives our best Aussie surfers a valuable opportunity to put their skills to the test in an elite competitive environment," he said.
"Sun, surf and sand are a way of life in our coastal towns and we're doing everything we can to ensure our coastal communities can reap the recreational, tourism and economic benefits that surfing provides."
World Surf League Asia Pacific general manager Andrew Stark said surfers would compete at the Newcastle event to win a share of more than $1 million in prize money.
"We're excited to host the opening event of the Australian leg of the WSL championship tour in Newcastle and share the city's fantastic surf breaks and truly spectacular coastline with the world," Mr Stark said.
The 2021 championship tour schedule currently includes events in Australia, Brazil, South Africa, Tahiti and the United States.
The championship tour is broadcast on Channel 7 and Fox Sports in Australia, with international broadcast partnerships for coverage in Asia, Europe and the United States.