The international surfing community will turn its attention to Port Stephens next month when the final event of the women’s World Qualifying Series is held at Birubi Beach.
Anna Bay resident and Destination Port Stephens board member Deb Stretton has lead the push to secure the Port Stephens Toyota NSW Pro, an event which will see the world’s best female surfers compete on Birubi’s break for a spot on the pro tour.
“Birubi and One Mile, all of our beaches, Zenith or Boxy, are some of the best surf spots on the east coast of NSW,” Ms Stretton said.
“It’s extremely baffling why we haven’t had a pro surfing event like this in Port Stephens before now.”
Ms Stretton had been in talks with Surfing NSW since the start of the year with a view of bringing a pro surfing event to Port Stephens in 2018.
When the Sydney International Women’s Pro, held for the first time last year at Cronulla, had to be cancelled, Ms Stretton put Port Stephens forward as an alternative venue.
In just five weeks Ms Stretton and a team of supporters have pulled together an event that would typically take “months and months” to organise.
“We’ve worked hard with all the key stakeholders to bring everything together in such a short amount of time,” Ms Stretton said.
Stakeholders include Port Stephens Council, Newcastle Airport, Destination NSW, Surfing NSW and Surfing Australia, Surf Life Saving NSW, Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council and businesses such as Winning Holidays and PRDnationwide Port Stephens.
Port Stephens Toyota is the naming sponsor of the event, which will be staged at Birubi Beach between November 2 and 5.
Kim Burton from Burton Toyota, who also sponsors Newcastle's Surfest, said he is “very proud to continue my long standing support of surfing”.
Port Stephens Mayor Ryan Palmer said the NSW Pro would showcase the area to a wider audience than ever before.
“This is not only an opportunity for our local surfers, our aspiring pros, it’s an opportunity for tourism for the area, for local businesses, and for surrounding areas as well,” he said.
“I think it's about time we had an event like this in Port Stephens because we do have some of the best beaches in the world here.”
Three-hundred surfers from 15 countries are expected to compete in the four-day event, the last opportunity for the women to qualify for the World Surf League pro tour.
Pulling the NSW Pro together
When Deb Stretton received the call from NSW Surfing asking whether Port Stephens could host the final round of the World Qualifying Series, she did not hesitate.
“I just said, yes,” she said. “Otherwise it was probably going to go somewhere like the South Coast or maybe further north.
“I just knew that if we did this this year we would keep it. If we didn't take that opportunity, maybe it never would have happened.”
It was that moment Ms Stretton, who works at d’Albora Marinas, is on the Destination Port Stephens board and is a mother to an up-and-coming surfer son, put on another cap – coordinator of a four-day international pro surfing event that needed to be organised within two months.
The Port business community has rallied behind Ms Stretton, and have pitched in to make the NSW Pro a success.
“Everyone has been so good about the short time frame,” she said.
“Usually with these events you have months and months, sometimes 12 months out, to work everything out, work with the council, sort out logistics.
“It been a team effort. These things don't happen unless you have a group around you who are passionate about what we're trying to do, and we have that.”
Before flying to Port Stephens for the final qualifying event, the surfers will be in Melbourne.
The plan if for competitors to fly from Melbourne to Newcastle Airport.
Ms Stretton is in talks with Port Stephens Coaches about transporting the athletes to the Bay.
Winning Holidays and PRDnationwide Port Stephens have come on board to help organisers of the NSW Pro with accommodation.
Port Stephens Council has been working with Ms Stretton to sort out the logistics.
Surf Life Saving NSW have also been talking with Ms Stretton, as the Birubi Point Surf Life Saving Club is a crucial part of making the NSW Pro a success.
“The lifesavers are looking at changing the way they operate over those four days, which is massive because we need them to keep the public out of the competition area,” Ms Stretton said.
“They've all been so engaging and helpful to make this happen.”
In addition to Port Stephens Toyota being the naming sponsor, it is anticipated the presentation ceremony at the end of the competition will be held in the dealership’s show room in Taylors Beach.
Local girls line up among the best
Two Port Stephens juniors will surf alongside some of the biggest names in the sport when the Port Stephens Toyota NSW Pro is staged at Birubi Beach next month.
Elle Clayton-Brown, from Corlette, and Jasmine Sampson, from Anna Bay, both 15, are expected to surf in the four-day pro event.
The teens said they are looking forward to surfing their home break alongside the world's best female sufers.
“It's about time we get a QS [pro event] here,” Elle said.
“Newcastle have Surfest and there's all different comps up and down the coast but we have such good waves here [Birubi].
“I want to draw a heat with a world tour circuit surfer – that would be the best experience ever.
Sampson said she was looking forward to competing against the “best female surfers in the world at home”.
Deb Stretton, who has led the charge in securing the NSW Pro for Port Stephens, said the event provided a new pathway for the area's female surfers.
“Having an event like this here, not only does it allow them to surf with some of their idols but it's the experience they get surfing at that level,” she said.
“You don't get many opportunities in your own backyard to surf with that standard - you have to travel and it costs a lot to travel.
“To have it in your own backyard and at the same time, showcase this beautiful beach, it's just a win-win.”
Elle and Jasmine were among the first entrants when the King of the Box surfing competition, held at Box Beach in Shoal Bay annually, opened a section for women this year.
This weekend, October 15 and 16, the pair will surf in the Port Stephens leg of the Surfarama.
The series is made up of four surfing competitions held on the Central Coast, Northern Beaches, South Coast and Port Stephens.
It gives junior boardriders, aged 18 and under, a chance to compete against surfers from other areas.