Bailey Krstevski says a career-best performance at the Coolongatta Gold has given him great confidence as he returns to the Illawarra for this year's Sydney Water Surf Series.
The competition will attract some of NSW's best surf life saving talent when round one is held on Saturday in Krstevski's hometown, Warilla. First ran in 2002, it is recognised as one of the state's longest-running surf sports series, allowing surf lifesavers of all ages to compete and hone their skills.
The 2023 series opener will take place almost a week after the "Coolie" was held on the Gold Coast, signalling the unofficial start of the Nutri-Grain Ironman summer. Kiama star Ali Day further etched his name in the history books by securing his ninth Gold victory last Sunday.
However, Day wasn't the only Illawarra talent to make their own slice of history. Krstevski competed in the short course, finishing fourth overall in the opens category out of a field of more than 20 competitors.
"It was the first time that I've competed in a proper open race, so to finish right up there with all of those guys gives me a lot of confidence," the Warilla-Barrack Point SLSC talent said.
"It was good to see that I can match it with some of those guys up there, and now it's time to bring it down here to race in the Sydney Water."
Krstevski is no stranger to the Sydney Water Surf Series, having made his debut as a nipper at his previous club Shellharbour.
A decade later, the now 19-year-old is ready to step up to the opens class for the first time.
"I've been doing it for a long time, since I was in the under-eights or under-nines. I remember going down to Gerringong and other places around the area," Krstevski said.
"It's exciting to step up to opens this year, but I know it's going to be a lot harder than what I'm used to, taking on all of the big guys. But I'm ready for the challenge so we'll see how it goes.
"We've had one of the rounds down in Warilla for a couple of years now and it's always pretty special to race at your home beach, so I'm looking forward to it."
This Saturday will mark the first of four Sydney Water rounds to take place in the next month, with Kiama Downs, Bulli and Wollongong also set to host events.
It is the start of a busy summer for Krstevski, who has his eyes set on the upcoming Wanda Tradies Carnival in Cronulla. The Illawarra product will then compete at several surf lifesaving carnivals this summer in a bid to be selected for the NSW team.
In the longer term, Krstevski has the goal of one day joining the likes of fellow locals Day and Ben Carberry in the Nutri-Grain Ironman series.
"At the Coolongatta Gold, I was looking at how I'd finish racing amongst those professionals. I was seeing if I could mix it with them and be close - and I did that. I was thinking about going to the Nutri-Grain trials, but we'll see how it goes. But if not this year, then definitely next year I'll go up and give it a go," he said.
"I've always wanted to be an Ironman. You see Ali Day up there winning on the weekend and Benny Carberry doing all of the stuff that he's doing in the Ironman series, and even Hayden White in previous years, it's pretty inspiring for all of us down at the club.
"It would be pretty special to continue on that tradition if I can eventually get there."
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