MEREWETHER'S Morgan Cibilic surfed the heat of his life yesterday to eliminate Hawaiian dual world champion John John Florence from the Newcastle Cup in a great day for the Hunter contingent.
He did it with a strapped little toe on his leading left foot and scored the highest two-wave score of the round by a sizeable margin.
"He'll be going for the mayor of Merewether," Newcastle legend and World Surf League commentator Luke Egan said afterwards.
Wildcard Jacko Baker couldn't quite reel in Brazil's rampaging reigning champ Italo Ferreira but Ryan Callinan edged out US surfer Crosby Colapinto and Julian Wilson disposed easily of fellow Australian Jack Robinson.
HOW WE REPORTED IT AS IT HAPPENED
With the east swell predicted to build today, a new southerly swell arriving and favourable offshore winds most of the time, the contest should be blessed with solid and consistent surf until finals day.
The clutch of Newcastle contestants in yesterday's round of 32 men's match drew the biggest crowd to Merewether Beach since the competition began last Thursday and the action did not disappoint.
After opening his heat with an 8.0, Cibilic held the lead the whole way and closed it out with a 9.03 to win by 17.13 to 13.16, a major upset by and a big margin.
Scores of 8.0 or above are classed as "excellent". Commentator Wayne "Rabbit" Bartholomew said he spoke to Cibilic at the beach early in the morning and "he was hobbling" and not even sure if he could surf.
But he showed no discomfort and needed just five waves to assemble his round-high total, while an increasingly rattled Florence chased 11 waves - his third best only a 3.67. Cibilic's next heat is against fellow Aussie Wade Carmichael.
The World Surf League (WSL) commentators rated Cibilic's victory their top moment from an action-packed series of match-ups after a lay-day on Wednesday waiting for better waves.
Cibilic said earlier in the week he had injured his left foot surfing on Monday afternoon, and Merewether club sources later said he had fractured his little toe. He hit the water yesterday with the toe smallest toes strapped, and a band of plaster across the foot.
A close look at his foot on the board - courtesy of Herald photographer Max Mason-Hubers - also appears to show tape around the heel of his foot.
If it hindered him, it didn't show, and he posted the highest heat total of the day and showed no sign of nerves as the clock ticked towards an increasingly likely upset victory.
Florence won the previous stop, Pipeline Masters, in December.
His free surfing since arriving at Merewether had turned heads and he was adamant at the contest launch last week that he was here to win.
But it was not to be. Florence exits with an unwanted 17th on his score card, and someone else may have the tour leader's yellow jersey when the next stop, at Narrabeen, starts next week.
After his win, Cibilic told WSL that the bruising had "cleared up after 48 hours and I could start to work a little bit again".
Coach Jay "Bottle" Thompson told him "you can still make this heat at 70 per cent" with the right tactics.
"After ten minutes, I was like, I could maybe win this . . . I'm winning at the moment and I just need to play my cards right," Cibilic said.
"I lost priority at the end, stupidly, and I was like, 'I'm done here', and then he went a wobbly one and then the one after was an absolute bomb. For the last few minutes I just couldn't stop smiling."
With Wilson, Cibilic and Callinan all back on the sand as winners, the wild-card Qualifying Series surfer Baker said he was "almost shaking" as he prepared to enter the water.
"But it was excitement, not nerves, and I was just feeding off the energy of the crowd," Baker said.
In the eight previous heats the surfers had all stayed close together but Ferreira paddled north up the beach towards a left-hand shorebreak, while Baker hugged close to the rocks in the area he knows so well.
The heat suffered from a lull in swell and the commentators said the rookie needed to get the biggest waves and surf them perfectly to have any hope of winning.
Ferreira paddled back down to Baker in the final minutes and then left the water with 30 seconds to go after a final wave to the shore.
Baker got a wave 10 seconds later and a heat that had been Ferreira's for the full half hour was suddenly in the balance.
But it was not quite enough and the Brazilian won 12.80 points to 11.20.
"I'm proud of how I went, to stay in the heat with the world champ the whole time shows I deserve to be there," Baker said.
And the cheering home crowd agreed.
The 32 surfers in the water yesterday put on a display that won't be forgotten in a hurry.
From the hyperactivity of Brazilian Italo Ferreira and the determination of his countrymen Felipe Toledo and Yago Dora, to the brutal strength of South African Jordy Smith and the vertical lightning of Aussie Owen Wright; the big names of the Championship Tour gave it their all.
While some exchanges had clear margins - Morgan Cibilic's win was one of them - most of the heats were close and the sometimes inconsistent conditions made wave selection critical.
As is usually the case, the judges rewarded power surfing on bigger waves, and there was no shortage of radical aerials in the shore-break as wave-end exclamation marks.
The women's quarter-finals and the men's round of 16 are next.
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