GERROA'S Sally Fitzgibbons has claimed victory at the 34th annual Newcastle Surfest World Surf League (WSL) Qualifying Series (QS) 6000 event, in excellent waves at Merewether Beach.
Fitzgibbons had to battle through a huge field of surfers from all over the world to claim the first combined QS6,000 of the season.
She now joins the likes of Mick Fanning, Pam Burridge and Rebecca Woods as a three-time Newcastle Surfest winner, having already held the trophy above her head in 2012 and 2016.
Fitzgibbons, who has just recovered from a fractured shoulder, and has been dealing with a few other niggles was close to pulling out of the event at the start of the week.
After a lot of hard work and preparation, Fitzgibbons was ready for the final day and looked impossible to beat, posting excellent scores throughout the event.
In the final of the Holmes Civil Developments Pro, the world number six came up against perennial qualification threat Isabella Nichols, from Australia, who was the form surfer of the event and although she went down to Fitzgibbons she still had the sportsmanship to chair her opponent to victory.
"To know that I had a couple of obstacles to get past at the start of the event and overcome them to take the win - this is a really cool feeling," Fitzgibbons said.
"I wasn't really sure if I'd be able to suit up and perform without risking injury before the Championship Tour begins.
"I'm glad I got through it and could compete with everyone here as it's so competitive and inspiring at these QS events.
"I have never had my fellow finalist chair me up the beach and I think it's a really good reflection of Isabella's character.
"We both have a lot of respect for each other's surfing and have been spending time training together recently which has shown me how much her heart is in the right place, so that was a real honour.
"I know she'll be on the Championship Tour soon."
The men's event was taken out by Alex Ribeiro, who defeated Brazil's Jadson Andre in the final.