SURFEST organiser Warren Smith expects to again welcome a quality field for the carnival’s main events next month but he is preparing not to have defending men’s champion Mikey Wright and women’s runner-up Tyler Wright – both from Culburra Beach.
Mikey Wright was the standout performer at the 6000-point Burton Automotive Pro last year, winning his first qualifying series contest and launching himself onto the championship tour.
He defeated Hawaiian Barron Mamiya 18.2 to 16.17 in the final at Merewether before gaining a sponsor’s wildcard into the CT opener at Snapper Rocks, where he made round four.
He went on to make eight appearances on the CT, twice making the semi-finals and eventually finishing 12th to secure a full-time spot for 2019.
However, he missed the Portugal Pro and season-ending leg in Hawaii due to a back injury, which looks set to keep him out of competition until the CT starts in April on the Gold Coast.
The 22-year-old told the World Surf League in December that he had two bulging discs and he would need four months of rehabilitation. It’s unlikely he will risk aggravating the problem at Surfest before the Quiksilver Pro at Snapper Rocks.
His sister, two-time world champion, Tyler Wright, made the final at Surfest last year but lost to Hawaiian Coco Ho.
While Ho is set to return, Wright appears unlikely to be back for the Holmes Civil Developments Pro at Merewether.
The 2016 and 2017 world champion missed the last five events on the CT last season due to illness and is competing on tour this year as a wildcard.
The 24-year-old said in November that a bout of influenza A, followed by a battle with post-viral syndrome, had kept her out of competition.
Despite the likely absences, Smith was confident of attracting another high-class field to Merewether from March 11-17 – entries close on Monday.
“I expect the majority of surfers who competed last year will be back again and have this as their first chance to put the jersey back on,” Smith said.
“It’s a really well-rated event, it’s a keeper for them if they do well.
“It gets their event confidence back up, they work out their boards, and they enjoy coming to Newcastle.
“The only thing that really gets them to the point where they can't come is injury, illness or something out of the ordinary happens, but you’ll find most of them will be here.
“But we have been informed Mikey and Tyler are still looking at it but we haven’t had confirmation yet.”
Meanwhile, Surfest’s Lake Mac City Pro Junior events will be held this weekend at Redhead.
More than 100 under-18 male and female surfers will compete in the 1000-point junior QS events.
Smith said the fields were the “biggest turn out of internationals that we have had for a pro junior”.
Athletes from Portugal, France, New Zealand, Italy, Sweden, Samoa, Japan, Australia, Croatia and the United States will compete.