Seeing the competitors together at the launch of the Port Stephens Toyota NSW Pro laughing and joking together you would be forgiven for forgetting that they are fierce rivals.
Out of the water these women are close friends but on a board, they give each other no quarter.
They have to be fierce if they want to make the championship tour (CT), home to the world’s best surfing in some of the world’s best surf spots.
The CT is the ‘dream tour’ – what every professional surfer strives to achieve.
And this week’s Port Stephens pro, being staged at Birubi Beach between Thursday and Tuesday, will decide who makes the 2019 CT.
As the final event on the women’s Qualifying Series (QS) calendar, and worth 6000 points, the focus for competitors such as Sage Erickson (US), Paige Hareb (New Zealand), Malia Manuel (Hawaii), Nikki Van Dijk, Bronte Macaulay and Philippa Anderson (Australia) will be on winning.
However, at the launch of the pro on Wednesday, held at the Taylors Beach dealership of naming sponsor Port Stephens Toyota, the competitors were playing it cool.
Anderson, from Merewether, is going into the Port pro sitting 11th in World Surf League’s QS rankings. She is chasing a maiden CT berth.
In last year’s Port pro Anderson progressed through two heats but fell to Teresa Bonvalot (Portugal) in the round of 16.
This year the 26 year old needs to get through two heats to improve her overall points but will need a quarter-final appearance or better to qualify.
“I haven’t really been thinking too much about the qualification scenarios this year,” Anderson said.
“I’m in a similar position to last year so am aware that a big result is needed, but I’ve been quite busy with other things which has meant my focus has been elsewhere.
“I’m really excited to be at the last event as it’s such a long year for us and to finish it off at home is awesome for me. I will have a lot of friends and family coming to watch so I hope they can bring me good luck.”
Fresh off a runner-up finish as a wildcard in the recent Roxy Pro France, Macy Callaghan (Australia) is heading into the Port pro with a solid opportunity at becoming a full-time competitor on the CT.
Having missed out on qualification by one heat at last year’s pro, the former world junior champion is taking a more relaxed approach coming into the final event of the season.
“Last year was a really tough loss to deal with,” Callaghan said.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself and had high expectations which made it all the more harder when it didn’t go to plan - I think I wanted it too bad.
“This year I’m feeling a lot more confident as I’ve learned so much and had so much more experience in the last 12 months.
“I’m a lot more relaxed about what happens this year, if I make it onto the CT that’s amazing and if I don’t, I’m fine with that. I will have another opportunity next year.”
Another young gun sitting on the cusp of qualification is Costa Rica’s Brisa Hennessy, currently 10th in the WSL QS.
The 19-year-old who now lives in Hawaii said she is more than aware that the NSW Pro is the most important event of her young career.
“I’m trying not to think about it yet but I know this is definitely one of, if not, the biggest event of my life,” Hennessy said.
“I’m trying to keep an open mind about what happens and just know that if it’s meant to be this year it will happen and if not I’ll go again next year.
“I’m just having a good time here in Australia with my family. I can’t wait to see what unfolds this week.”
The Port Stephens pro also includes a Men’s QS1000 event which will crown the WSL Australia / Oceania regional Qualifying Series Champion for 2018.
Taking the top spot will gift the winner a seeding into all of the QS6000 and 10,000 events for the opening half of the 2019 season.
Sitting within striking distance of this feat is Newcastle’s Morgan Cibilic who is hoping to lean on his intimate knowledge of the area to post one more solid result for the season.
“I didn’t think I’d be in the position at the start of the year so to be having this conversation is pretty surreal,” Cibilic said.
“I feel like my surfing is right there and I could do what needs to be done but there are some seriously talented surfers who are also in the race so it’s not going to be easy.
“To get a seed into those big events next year would be an honour so I’m going to give it my all this week.”
Port Stephens surfers Jasmine Sampson, Elle Clayton-Brown, Josh Stretton and Chris Michalak are due to contest the NSW Pro QS at Birubi Beach this week.