Competition saw a shift of location on day three, Thursday, February 18 of the Great Lakes Pro presented due to large surf and strong winds at the primary location of Boomerang Beach.
Although the surf at the new location of Tuncurry Breakwall was more manageable, there were still chunky four-to-five foot peaks on offer for surfers as the stage was set for a massive finals day tomorrow.
The standout performance of the event went to Reef Heazlewood from the Sunshine Coast, who posted the highest two-wave combination for an incredible display of fins free-surfing and commitment in the critical conditions.
Heazlewood, who was out of the water for much of 2020 with a shoulder injury is relishing his time back in the water and looks to be the surfer to beat as he moves into the quarterfinals at the Great Lakes Pro.
"I've just been focussed on getting back into the mind-frame of competing and it feels really good," Heazlewood said.
"It's been good to find a routine and do all of my prep work before heats as it's been a while since I've done it but it's good to get recognition with my results.
"All of the work to come back seems to be paying off here at this event -- feels good to be back.
"Watching the surf all day had me frothing, there are ramps anywhere. It really suits my surfing so I'm looking forward to more of the same on finals day."
Former Championship Tour surfer Matt Banting, Port Macquarie continued to showcase why he has long been considered one of Australia's most talented surfers as he executed a series of last-minute heroics to move through his respective round of 32 and round of 16 heats.
Banting performed a combination of beautiful and stylish top-to-bottom turns to seal himself a position into Saturday's quarterfinals where he'll face 2020 Australian Open of Surfing Series Champion Dylan Moffat.
"That was crazy in the last few minutes," Banting said.
All of the work to come back seems to be paying off here at this event -- feels good to be back.Reef Heazlewood
"I feel a little bit rusty coming back into competition and was making some bad mistakes with wave choice.
"I managed to tidy it up in the last few minutes of both heats and turn it around with a couple of scores which definitely built my confidence.
"Both heats, I was really nervous taking off on my last waves because I knew I needed a score but there was someone still out there that could easily still outdo me so it was tense for sure. It's just an awesome confidence booster being behind then coming back at the last minute but it is pretty stressful."
Central Coast dynamo, Joel Vaughan, Bateau Bay, NSW made his intentions clear in his round 32 heat as he belted a series of massively critical snaps and carves to finish the heat with a near-perfect 9.43 and a decent 7.03 to take his two-wave heat score to 16.46.
The aforementioned score enabled the talented young junior surfer to claim the heat ahead of day two-standout and former Championship Tour surfer Mitch Crews, Gold Coast.
Unfortunately for Vaughan, he faced an in-form Heazlewood and Banting in the following round in one of the most exciting heats of the event and was eliminated from the competition.
"My game plan was to just find a wave that had a steep section on it," Vaughan said.
"I thought Kehu (Butler) was actually going to get that wave, but somehow it came to me and just held its line as it reeled off down the line.
"My goal in this event was just to continue to improve on my comp surfing and just focus on my own surfing."
Other strong performers who dropped out of contention before finals day included former CT competitors Mitch Crews and Soli Bailey who both went down in the round of 16.
Kobie Enright is no stranger to success on the Vissla NSW Pro Surf Series having taken out an event and finaled in another back in 2018.
Since then, Enright's results haven't reflected her talent and she's been left chasing another win on the QS ever since.
After time away from competing in 2020 and an opportunity to reflect, Enright is fully committed to finding herself a spot on the Challenger Series by years end and got her campaign off to a good start locking in a spot in the quarterfinals at the Great Lakes Pro.
"I'm so happy to be back competing again in a WSL event," Enright said.
"2019 and the start of 2020 were tough for me with a string of average results, so all of the time off last year came at a good time for me.
"It was good to get that time off and reset.
"I've definitely been waiting for this leg of events to get underway.
"There's been so much anticipation about competing again that regardless of conditions everyone is just happy to be out there competing."
Another competitor who has benefited from the unplanned time off in 2020 was Alysse Cooper who booked herself a spot in the quarterfinals at the Great Lakes Pro.
Manly Beach resident, Cooper looked comfortable in shifting peaks, only needing three waves to lock in her winning total and progress through the heat.
Cooper will take on QS stalwart Philippa Anderson in quarterfinal four later today.
"It's good to be back in a jersey," Cooper said.
"Last year was really needed for me and I think a lot of the competitors because it gave everyone time to be at home and spend time with friends and family which I haven't had the opportunity to do in years.
"It definitely gave me a new perspective on life and on surfing and has made me very appreciative of the opportunity to compete.
"I think this new positive perspective is reflected in my surfing and the way I compete."
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