INDIGENOUS wildcard entrant Soli Bailey held on in a thrilling final to claim the Battle Royale crown at Stanwell Park on Saturday.
Bailey, who finished 23rd on the World Surf League international qualifying series, had dominated in the early stages of the decider after travelling from Byron Bay.
However, rival Jared Hickel from Cronulla responded to be within striking distance with four minutes remaining.
But Hickel was unable to find the high-scoring wave he needed for victory, as Bailey held on. “It was a great final, the standard was fantastic during the whole event,” Illawarra Sports High talented surfing co-ordinator Geoff Latimer, who was part of the organising committee with Dylan Perese and Scarborough Boardriders, said.
“Soli just started so well and it looked like he was going to own the final for the first 15 minutes.
“But Jared fought back really well, it was a great finish.
“Wade Carmichael was unlucky to miss the final, he was surfing so well and only just missed out.”
Carmichael is fifth on the Australasian WQS tour, including a victory at the Great Lakes Pro.
Wollongong board shaper Parrish Byrne led the Illawarra charge, also coming close to a place in the final. Latimer said the event was boosted by a clean one-metre swell, after moving from Thirroul.
“It started to pick up on Friday and it ended up being really good,” he said.
“It’s the best contest south of Sydney, especially as a one-day event with such a quality field.
“And it’s really developing as a breeding ground for future tour surfers.
“There are a lot of great young up-and-comers and it’s chance for them to test themselves against guys on the qualifying tour. Bailey picked up the $3000 first prize, while Wollongong’s Skye Burgess won the one-off women’s final.
The event came just days after South Coast professional surfer Tyler Wright claimed her first world title in France. Wright, from Culburra, has won four events on the world tour this year and has an insurmountable lead with the final leg still
“I always knew I would win a world title,” she said on returning with the trophy at Sydney Airport on Saturday.
"It was just a matter of deciding I was ready to do it.
“I've grown up a lot in the last year, and because of that I decided that it was time to put my mind to it, to really throw everything into it – and now that I'm here, I feel like it's right where I should be.”
With Wright destined to inspire a new generation of young surfers, the Battle Royal also featured a junior event on Friday.
Keanu Miller took out the schools competition to qualify for the main draw, while world junior competitor Luke Wrice was in the competition.
Cronulla’s Jay Brown the junior event.