Malia, Tati headline Surfest in year’s first major contest

Both Malia Manuel and Tatiana Weston-Webb will be among the top few seeds in the year’s first truly important women’s contest, the Anditi Women’s Pro in Newcastle, Australia.

At the event known as “Surfest,” most of the competitors who have any thoughts of using their Qualifying Series ranking at year’s end will compete in the season’s first QS 6,000 contest. Though both Manuel and Weston-Webb certainly hope to re-qualify comfortably with their Championship Tour standing, each can start the year with a little breathing room by pulling a big result and beginning close to the top of the QS rankings.

Because each has that CT experience, Manuel and Weston-Webb will each get to begin in the Round of 48. That’s a huge advantage on some other surfers who will have to surf two heats to reach that point, as well as all those who will be attempting to get into the main draw in the trial rounds.

It’s been a few years since she was active on the world tour, but Alana Blanchard threw her name back into the mix by entering this event. Blanchard, who has surfed the world’s best waves in the absolute most prime lineups, begins with those just looking for a glimpse of that status in the trial rounds. Just one wahine will emerge from the trials to make the Round of 84. Blanchard’s star power will certainly overshadow anyone else at that stage, but we’ll see who gets the scores to enter the fray.

Brianna Cope, Bailey Nagy and Mainei Kinimaka will make it a total of six Kauai surfers in this loaded field. Kinimaka has the earliest wake-up call as the Anahola product gets her first paddle in the Round of 84. Mainei made the semifinals of the Shoe City Pro last month, starting her QS campaign with a nice performance. She’s picked up a few results the past couple years at these elite events to consistently remain in the world’s top 100. Doing so again will require surviving an opening heat against Maui’s Summer Macedo, as well as Japan’s Hinako Kurokawa and South Africa’s Tanika Hoffman.

Nagy also has a fellow Hawaii surfer to contend with when she gets going in the Round of 72. She’ll be taking on Zoe McDougall, who is coming off a win at the Sunset Pro Junior just a couple weeks back. That duo and Australia’s Mikaela Greene await their fourth fellow competitor to advance.

It’s a similar story for Cope, who is still looking for that second marquee result after finishing runner-up at the Los Cabos Open a few years back. She’ll be matched up with Oahu’s Brisa Hennessy and France’s Maud Le Car in the Round of 72. Cope and Hennessy are two of Hawaii’s most impressive young wahine and each could give some of the top seeds all they can handle under the right conditions.

Oahu’s Mahina Maeda, Dax McGill and Alessa Quizon complete Hawaii’s roster.

If any can survive and advance, they’ll be contending with names like Sally Fitzgibbons, Johanne Defay and Stephanie Gilmore in the Round of 48. Most of the CT talent are the favorites, but the best chance to pull the upset will be at that stage. Everyone who reaches the Round of 16 will move forward in just head-to-head heats. That’s when the elite hold their biggest edge.

That crew of elite definitely includes Manuel and Weston-Webb, who have become QS superstars. If either can leave Surfest with 6,000 rankings points, their 2017 will be just a bit more relaxing.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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