Avalon Gal from SoCal and Kirra Seale from Oahu. All pics: @surfshotsnoosa
A Harrison Roach drive on a mid 60s Wallace.
Hayden Swan cross-foot and styling in the Over 45s.
The Over 55 Mens finalists, Little cove Surfboards Reid Johnson (second from right) taking this one.
Over 65 dynamos, Bruce Channon (centre) from Albie Curtis (right) and Earle Page. All pics; Noosa Festival of Surfing
7 March 19
Despite all predictions showing Day Five of the Vonu Noosa Festival of Surfing as a day of few waves and little swell, little had changed from the picture-perfect conditions we have revelled in all week long.
Finals day had a few loose ends to tie up prior to their climax, and the Diverse Lending Solutions Women’s Open round two was the first of those. As has been so profoundly displayed this week, the talent of the women’s surfing has raised to new levels.
The world champion, Soleil Errico was, of course simply outstanding, but it was young Californian Avalon Gall who showed greatest potential. In 52 weeks, Avalon’s surfing has skyrocketed and despite Errico taking the first win of the day, Avalon’s performance marked her as a very strong finals contender. Mason Schremmer was exceptional, as was Sally Cohen in heat two, and Kirra Seale was narrowly toppled for the top spot by Kaitlin Mikkelsen.
The senior gents were afflicted somewhat by the high tide. Unlike the waves that have continued to roll all week, a one-hour window proved a little on the challenging side. The repechages offered just a single heat – the last chance for the competitors to claim the remaining places in their respective finals.
John Demos and Chris Prewit tussled for the lead of the White Horses Men’s 45 & Over, though both were successful, with the top two of each division’s heat progressing.
Likewise with the Johnson duo of the Men’s 55 & Over presented by Kennards Hire. No relation, Reid and Craig Johnson were both on form to progress, though not without Alain Sauvage driving hard to challenged them.
While several of the faces were familiar in the festival’s Noosa Longboards Men’s 65 & Over division, they were not so much in a repechage round. Eric Walker, a frequent festival winner, Steve O’Donnell and Albie Curtis all frequently share finals places, but the rep round four threw them into the mix.
Albie Curtis regained his form, emerging on top, though it was somewhat of a surprise for Ballina’s Eric Walker to fall short, a great performance from Peter Chapman taking him through to the final.
The rain showers of the early morning passed, and blue skies abound. Each and every heat of the Reef Hotel Men’s Logger Pro could have been a final, the star-studded cast filling the crowd and commentators alike with much excitement and anticipation.
Kai Sallas remained on blistering form, fractionally behind Harrison Roach, but it was the younger surfers, in particular Kaimana Takayama and Kaniela Stewart, who received the admiration from not only the spectators, but also their peers and fellow heat competitors.
Five years absent but no less impressive, Troy Mothershead also did well, his distinctive noseriding illuminating the First Point waves, and Noosa local Dane Wilson brought the performance and traditional facets of longboarding together harmoniously.
And so the path was set for the afternoon’s finals. Damian Coulter has surfer brilliantly across several divisions this week, but he couldn’t stave off the performances of Chris Prewit and Hayden Swan. Coulter would have to settle for third in the narrowly-decided heat, with Prewit second and Swan defending his title after a fashion, last year’s Men’s 40 & Over coming out with the win in this year’s White Horses Men’s 45-plus.
The Johnsons were once more strong in the Kennards Hire Men’s 55 & Over, Craig and Reid, but Noosa local Wally Allan was not about to let them take the glory. Ever the patient competitor, it was not until the final five minutes that Allan caught his second wave, temporarily advancing him to first place, before a late wave from Reid Johnson took him to the lead and Allan would be relegated to second.
In the Noosa Longboards Men’s 65 & Over, it was just like the good old days! Steve O’Donnell surfed strongly, Albie Curtis was dynamic, but Bruce Channon regained the form diminished in the first few days, but that has seen him fill his shelves with so many first-place trophies.
The stage set, the grand finals continued, and the Thomas Surfboards Old Mal was nothing short of stunning. As with many of this week’s finals, any of the contestants could have been deemed the winner, but waves would come and go, points would fall and only one would reach the pinnacle of the podium.
Craig Harvey would surf with power, Jared Mell with flair and Matt Cuddihy with and almost complacent casualness, but none would take a trophy. Rather, Zye Norris’ calculated speed and style that saw him win last year’s Logger Pro, Max Weston’s consummate performances and Harrison Roach’s simply impeccable talent would elevate them to bronze, silver and gold respectively.
Swapping old for new, the Logger Pro finals absolutely epitomised what modern longboarding has become. Inspired by the classic, influenced by the modern and infused with personality and style, it is what Tom Wegener has dubbed the Beat Generation.
Young Hawaiian Kelis Kaleopaa may have competed in the Under 15 earlier in the week, but her skills rose beyond her years. Despite coming in in the final place of the LadyLogger Pro final presented by World Surfaris, Kelis surfed exceptionally. The world champ couldn’t hold back the tide of talent, and Soleil Errico would not be a medallist this time. Rather, Avalon Gall would once more excel, falling shy of Tully White in second and a resoundingly impressive Sierra Lerback.
On the men’s side of the logging fence, there was only one name from his very first wave. Defending champion Kaniela Stewart surfed impeccably, not a foot wrong, not a drop of water out of place. Perhaps it wasn’t his almost perfect score of last year, but when the horn sounded, final scores unannounced, there was no doubt on the beach that the youngster from Hawai’i would be taking the top position. Kai Sallas opened with a high score, but was unable to back it up, so too with Harrison Roach, but the consistency of Dane Wilson and Clinton Guest would see them claimed the two remaining accolades.
Three of the six Logger finalists would also appear in the Halse Lodge Men’s Open, Kai Sallas, Clinton Guest and Kaimana Takayama surfing back-to-back heats, but Kai Sallas was not about to let two defeats occur. The more dynamic Men’s Open gave Sallas the opportunity to surf more true to form and he was at his blistering best. Confident throughout despite diminishing conditions, Sallas lived up to his potential, and a pair of waves would see him take the crown from Ben Considine and Clinton Guest.
Upsets abound in the Diverse Lending Solutions Women’s Open, and reigning world champion Soleil Errico would not be retaining her festival crown. Mason Schremmer too, normally a firm favourite, would be toppled, and strong heat from Kirra Seale and Kaitlin Mikkelsen taking the second and third places. The top slot, however, was reserved for a special win. 2019 has been the year of Avalon Gall. Whichever division, whichever heat, the young Californian has radiated, and this year’s Women’s Open victory would be her just and crowning glory.
With wind turned onshore, waves ebbing rapidly into the haze of the previous week’s memories, the concluding heat began: the eponymous Vonu Teams Challenge. A hand-picked collection of some of the festival’s finest participants waited on the beach as their team mates took turns to surf their two allotted waves before tagging the next team mate in line for them to do the same.
Featuring festival head compare, Tom Wegener, and an always entertaining Jared Mell, the Ray White Noosa team surfed well without denial. Team Okanui too offered a solid performance, narrowly out-surfed by the Fang Gang, but when the points fell at the conclusion of the 30-minute heat, the foursome from Thomas Surfboards – Harrison Roach, Zye Norris, Sierra Lerback and Thomas Bexon - were simply on the next level.
With the festival competition concluded, the presentations would announce the victorious to the waiting crowd, local surf artist Owen Cavanagh’s handcrafted trophies presented to this year’s best of the best. Two prizes, however would not need, nor require trophies.
Commencing tomorrow upon the site of the festival, the World Surf League Noosa Longboard Open had offered two surfers a wild card into this, stage one of the 2019 world championship race. Smiling so hard her cheeks ached, Sierra Lerback gratefully accepted the first from WSL’s Will Hayden-Smith, while Victorian Ben Considine humbly accepted the second. For these two at least, the festival was yet to finish…
- REPORT BY THOMAS ALEXANDER / NFOS