IT'S not often that Sally Fitzgibbons welcomes any delay to a surfing event, especially Surfest.
The bubbly world No.6 is a two-time winner of the 6000-point qualifying series contest and remains among the most popular surfers each year at the carnival, where she competed and won as a junior.
The South Coast product, though, would have been a likely withdrawal this year had the event been held in its unusual window of late February.
A fractured shoulder sustained in a fall during the quarter-finals of the season-ending Maui Pro in December kept the 28-year-old out of the water until just two weeks ago.
"When the dust settled it was a good 12 weeks of very slow, incremental changes," Fitzgibbons said.
"It's still part of your thinking, your training and how you structure your week, but it's on the move. I'm out there paddling into the waves and that's the main thing
"I gave it a good knock. It was a solid fracture and as good as undisplaced, so there's no need for surgery but it definitely took longer than the average four to six weeks."
She said it was "definitely good to be 28 and a little calmer" during the recovery but she was ready for the Holmes Civil Developments Pro, which starts on Monday at Merewether.
"I just think this event is brilliant. I want to keep doing it until I'm old and crusty. Just rocking along and having fun," she said.
"It's a no-brainer to have this as my first event but it was a little bit touch and go for me with the timelines.
"I think a couple of weeks back if you'd asked me if I was right, I wouldn't have been sure. Then two weeks down the track and to get some decent load in, I'm feeling much calmer and able to definitely show up and focus on the game rather the injury and worrying if it's going to get through."
The No.3 seed is entering her 11th consecutive year on the championship tour, where she has finished in the top three six times without winning the ultimate prize.
She said the time out of the water had her energised for another crack at the world title, which countrywoman Stephanie Gilmore won for a seventh time last year.
"I think a few people must call me crazy but it feels like it's only the first couple of years," she said of her career.
"If you never lose your youthful playfulness, then surfing, the game of surfing and putting on a jersey is always going to be fun.
"The tour is in such good shape and I just love the energy of showing up and being in amongst it.
"Watching Steph win at this stage of her career, just the storylines that we've all been on tour together for quite some time, we've shared our lives and goals in that space. It's really interesting to still have that zest to be No.1 over those opponents.
"The storylines are so entrenched in all of us and I feel like each person goes away in this break and it does feel like you are all starting as rookies again when you come back.
"I'll show up again and I feel like I'm in a very me state of mind, I'm not really interested in getting towed into the energies of people coming back bigger or stronger, with better boards etc. I think everyone in their own puzzle is at their most powerful. I'm in mine as well, just rehabbing.
"I feel on my day I'm there and if I can really keep producing my best and be consistent through this year, there's no reason I can't be in that top spot."
Fitzgibbons will start at Surfest in the round of 48 along with top seed Tatiana Weston-Webb and No.2 Johanne Defay.