Newcastle surfing great Mark Richards is thrilled that his home town will host a major surfing event in April, attracting the world's best surfers.
"It's awesome. I think it's an incredible opportunity," said Mr Richards, a four-time world title winner.
"Anything that showcases the best of Newcastle to the world is really good. Obviously our beaches and surf are some of our greatest assets.
"We've basically got five local surfers in the event, which is really exciting."
Mr Richards is looking forward to the world's best male and female surfers competing at the event, including 11-time world title winner Kelly Slater - now aged 48.
"I'm pretty sure it'll be the last time we see Kelly compete in Newcastle. He's got to be very close to retiring. I wondered if this may be his last year on the tour," he said.
Surfest founder Warren Smith, who will organise the event, said Slater was still ranked in the top 10 male surfers on the tour.
"He's the GOAT [Greatest Of All Time]," he said.
"It'll be unbelievable to see him and all the others here. Get ready Newcastle."
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 event will be held in Newcastle from April 1 to 11.
"Newcastle has a long history when it comes to surfing," 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."
The NSW government and City of Newcastle will sponsor the event.
Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said the event would 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 economic injection is estimated at around $15 million into our local economy. I think that's probably a conservative estimate."
Merewether surfers 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 the "wonderful opportunity" of event wildcards.
She said the international surfers would follow "strict COVID quarantine procedures, coming in through Sydney, organised through the NSW government and WSL [World Surf League]".
"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.
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".
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. Warren [Smith] is working on a COVID-safe plan."
Mr Smith said the event would be free to attend, but COVID would be a factor.
"You can't expect to see 30,000 people on the beach, the masses of autograph hunters and the surfers cheering each other up the beach," he said.
"Fans will be allowed in the event, but it will be under the health requirements at the time. We'll have to be very mindful of social distancing. There will be a QR scan code to get in."
The event is expected to attract 52 of the best international surfers. 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."
Asked if he thought the surfers would be better behaved than the tennis players, Mr Smith said: "Yeah, well, the WSL has definitely informed surfers on what to expect when they come here".
"The plane-load arrives on March 8. It'll be a long two weeks for them in hotel quarantine, but I think they're all appreciative," he said.
The world tour was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Port Stephens mayor Ryan Palmer said his council was "sounding out the possibility of holding a surf event or events around the time the Newcastle event is on".
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