By Matt Cleary, 11th September 2022
They were pre-event favourites and seven-time SURFTAG champions, and the pressure was on to defend their title and represent their famous beach.
Yet the women’s crew from North Narrabeen Boardriders took it all in their stride to dominate the final of the Women’s SURFTAG Presented by Beachfox Sunscreen at South Curl Curl on Saturday, matching their idol Steph Gilmore and racking up eight championships.
Tru Starling, who’d had an ordinary start to the event after face-planting in an earlier heat, was the star of the final.
“It’s pretty special,” Starling said. “We sat down beforehand and said to each other, ‘We have seven titles, let’s go for eight. Let’s be the greatest.’
“That was our vibe. And everyone just struck something and switched on.
“It was amazing.”Squally cloud-showers on the horizon begat phosphorous rainbows while a blustery off-shore breeze made for clean, three-foot waves.
Yet such is the break at South Curl Curl, the waves can spring up wherever they want like underwater Whack-a-Moles.
With the waves hard to judge, the final began slowly – four surfers caught just two waves in the first 10 minutes.
Starling was on one of them, recording 8.67 – the third-highest score of the day – after a long and searing ride of cut-backs before jamming it at the end.
She got plenty of her second wave, too, a score of 6.83 doubling and producing a two-wave score of 22.3 – the third-highest two wave score of the day.
“I wanted to get us away to a really good start,” Starling told the Beaches Champion. “I was really happy with the first wave. And I knew I had to back it up with the ‘power wave’ because it’s doubled.
“I wanted somewhere in the six range and was really happy to get it.
“The timing I wasn’t as happy with. But, well, risk reward.”
It’s part of the tactics of this format. Do earlier surfers take their time and look for big numbers? Or should they ‘dump and run’ and take what they can so that those who follow have time to score.
With good surfers waiting on the shore Starling said “it’s stressful” waiting for a ‘perfect’ wave.
“You don’t want to let anyone down and not give someone an opportunity.
“It’s way more stressful surfing for a team, especially one that’s so prestigious and has had so many titles,” Starling said.
She needn’t have worried.
Team-mate Kyla Whitfield scored 5.07 from a long and fluid left-hander and followed it up with an 11.66 power wave.
“It’s squeaky bum time,” declared the event commentator Ryan Bridges. “Ten and a half minutes to go.”
Sydney Chevalier and Gabi Spake of Long Reef did their best but couldn’t amass big numbers on power waves.
And the chasing clubs’ tactics in the hectic final stages meant they’d have to score whatever they could from any wave they could get.
Alysse Cooper would not give up. She scored 8.33 on a power wave to help Queenscliff into second.
But when North Narrabeen’s Ruby Trew – who’d earlier scored 9.67 which an onlooker described as “solid backhand snaps and carves, committed surfing – ripped off an 12.4 power wave, it was a question only of how far.
“Elle Northie could win here without getting her hair wet in the final,” event organiser Steve Harrison declared of North Narrabeen’s No.5.
With 20 seconds to go Northie decided she wanted in and plunged into the surf and indeed got her hair wet.
Then a photographer’s drone caused panic in the official marquee when it descended towards the sea, apparently out of battery, the operator’s remote control useless. Yet something, perhaps instinct, kicked in and the whirly-bird soared high back into the sky before returning home of its own volition.
Then the air raid siren signalled the end of the heat and North Narrabeen had won their 8th SURFTAG women’s championship, winning by 16.42 points from Queenscliff (39.83), Long Reef (23.9) and North Shelly (23.3).
North Narrabeen veteran Bel Hardwick – who’s been involved in all eight championships – paid tribute to coach Matt Cattle and the greater club, and said “that one was pretty special”.
“We’ve got such a high quality of surfer in the club and there’s a lot of pressure to perform. It’s iconic, North Narrabeen, an iconic location.
“There’s a lot of surfers wanting to join the club and there’s quite a tough system to get in.
“Once you’re in it’s such an amazing family and everyone’s really supportive,” Hardwick said.
The 2022 SURFTAG Series is proudly supported by Surf Culture Bondi, Guzman y Gomez, The Manly Club, Beachfox Sunscreen, Pine Property, Swellnet, Manly Observer, Tawny Frogmouth and Lifeline Northern Beaches.
2022 SURFTAG Series
1. Junior Surftag Presented by Guzman y Gomez – 13/14 August, Dee Why Beach
2. Grommet’s SURFTAG Presented by Surf Culture Bondi – 27/28 August, Queenscliff Beach
3. Women’s SURFTAG Presented by Beachfox – 10/11 September, Dee Why Beach
4. Master’s SURFTAG Presented by The Manly Club – 24/25 September, Curl Curl Beach
5. Men’s SURFTAG – 1/2 October, Queenscliff Beach
SURFTAG Website – www.surftag.au
SURFTAG Results – https://liveheats.com/surftag
SURFTAG Socials – @surftagseries