Action aplenty at the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup as Merewether gets serious
THE surfing gods smiled on Merewether at first light yesterday with solid contestable conditions to kick off the elimination rounds of the men's and women's events, with the bigger swell predicted earlier in the week looking almost certain to eventuate.
But the gods also showed their fickle hand. Newcastle's women's wild-card Philippa Anderson was knocked out by a rampaging world champion, Hawaiian Carissa Moore.
And late in the day, word emerged that her Merewether clubmate Morgan Cibilic injured his foot in the surf on Monday afternoon.
Cibilic was seeing doctors last night in a bid to be fit to face two-times world champion John John Florence in his heat this morning, if the contest continues as expected.
Yesterday's surfing began with the men's elimination rounds, with Port Macquarie's Matt Banting, Culburra's Mikey Wright, South African Matthew McGilvray and Brazilian Jason Andre bowing out in the four three-surfer heats, in which the first two surfers progress to the round of 32 in the men's and 16 in the women's.
In the women's two elimination heats, the losers were Malia Manuel of Hawaii and American Sage Erikson.
That second elimination heat provided the first upset of the day, with Australia's Macy Callaghan defeating Frenchwoman Johanne Defay, pushing world #5 Sage Erikson of the US out of the event. Callaghan later lost to Australian superstar Stephanie Gilmore, a seven-times world record holder and a danger in any conditions.
The WSL format scores waves out of 10 with the two highest scores counting, unless the surfer is pinged for an interference, cutting them to their best single wave.
The women's heats provided another talking point when Aussie Isabella Nichols beat world #3, Brazilian Tatiana Weston-Webb.
Nichols told commentators after her heat that she had no idea how she was going because her ears were blocked.
"I think I've got surfer's ear," she said, saying she couldn't hear the scores being relayed to the competitors by the beach public address system.
Competition surfing involves tactics as well as ability and Brazilian Jason Andre provided a few minutes of drama when he left his two rivals, Italian Leonardo Fioravanti and Conner Coffin of the US, down at the main Merewether break and paddled north towards Pogos, needing a score and hoping for some waves to himself. But it didn't work and Andre was bundled out.
In the early afternoon the third heat of the women's, Sally Fitzgibbon against Keely Andrew, hit a lull, with WSL commentator Wayne "Rabbit" Bartholomew describing it as the first heat that didn't have surf, saying "it's actually been pretty consistent".
Most surfers headed out the back, but former world champ and heat favourite Tyler Moore was upstaged by American Courtney Conlogue when the Aussie stuck with the closer-in shorebreak but failed to make the gamble pay.
In the post-contest wrap, Rabbit and co-commentators Ronnie Blakey and Richie Lovett lamented the plight of the first men eliminated, who pick up equal 33rd positions - or the unwanted "dirty turds", in rhyming slang. Officials will check conditions at 6.45am today.
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