A strong contingent of locals will fly the flag for Port Stephens when professional surfing returns to Birubi Beach this weekend.
Bay siblings Elle and Mike Clayton-Brown plus Jasmine Sampson, Taj Turner, Jimmi Hill and Josh Stretton are among the 90 entries that have so far been accepted into the 2021 Port Stephens Pro, which is stop two on the four-event Vissla NSW Pro Surf Series.
"Over the years we have been extremely spoilt with awesome wave quality in the Port Stephens region and it's an absolute joy to return to the area after a turbulent year in 2020," Surfing NSW chief Luke Madden said. "I would like to thank the local surfing contingent and the other event stakeholders for welcoming us back in 2021."
The last professional surfing event to be staged in the area was the Port Stephens Toyota Pro in 2019.
The format of this year's Port Pro, to be held at Birubi Beach from Sunday, February 21 to Tuesday, February 23, will be different from past events.
The 2021 Port Pro consists of two QS-1000 rated events for men and women. Previously, the women's event was a QS6000 and the men's a QS1000.
In 2020 the World Surf League changed is tour structure to create distinct seasons between development tiers. The Port Pro is now one of four Qualifying Series regional events that athletes will look to top in order to qualify for the Challenger Series.
Will Hayden-Smith, a tour manager for WSL, said the structure change was to reduce the economic pressure on surfers and their sponsors. He added that he was excited that a pro event was heading back to Port Stephens.
"Port Stephens and in particular Birubi Beach has become a staple on the WSL Qualifying Series over the last five years and we're really excited to be returning in 2021," he said. "The area has plenty of options for all conditions making it ideal for a surfing event and our competitors love making the trip to the region each year."
Participants entered into the Port Pro so far largely hail from Australia, but has also attracted Australian-based international surfers such as Sarah Baum from Africa, Sai Maniwa from Asia, Dom Thomas from North America and Sein Fujimoto, also from Asia.
The Great Lakes Pro at Boomerang Beach, held Tuesday to Thursday, kicked off the series. Following the Port Pro, surfers will head to Maroubra Beach then Avoca Beach for events three and four in the series.