TWO-time Surfest winner and 1999 world champion Mark Occhilupo believes Newcastle has what it takes to fill the void in Australian surfing and host a prime-rated event next year.
The 46-year-old, who won Surfest in 1986 and 1998, is preparing to compete in the $155,000 six-star World Qualifying Series event in two weeks.
Although not making a full-scale comeback, the popular goofy-footer is keen to keep his ranking high enough to surf at selected events and scratch a competitive itch.
The Gold Coast surfer is also entering the Margaret River Pro, which is the only prime event held in Australia.
Prime events offer $250,000 in prizemoney and are the step just below the elite World Championship Tour.
The Margaret River Pro will become part of the WCT next year, leaving Australia without a prime contest.
Occhilupo said Surfest, which found the financial backing to secure six-star WQS status for the first time last year, was an ideal event to take Margaret River’s prime place.
‘‘I’m just really stoked it’s back to a six-star event now, and hopefully Newcastle might even be a prime next year,’’ Occhilupo said.
‘‘We need more primes in Australia. We should have the same as the other countries, really. We have a lot of events, but we need more bigger ones to give all the kids who want to qualify something to aspire to.’’
Brazil, mainland America and Hawaii have two prime events, while South Africa has one.
Surfest organiser Warren Smith said his event would need a $130,000 boost in support to reach the next level, but he was sure they would tick all the other boxes.
‘‘I’m confident we’d meet all the KPIs for the criteria to be a prime event but dollars would be the big thing,’’ Smith said.
‘‘It’s not only the jump in prizemoney.
‘‘There’s a domino effect with that.
‘‘Things like your sanction fee and international wages all go up.
‘‘But in terms of location and coverage and all the other aspects that make up a prime event, we have all that.’’
Given Surfest has fought hard to secure and retain six-star status, the jump in backing needed for prime rating appears a bridge too far.
Smith said he was ‘‘looking outside the square’’ with his next three-year plan for Surfest and it would focus on building the festival concept.
Regardless, Smith said the vote of confidence from Occhilupo was a boost.
‘‘It’s unbelievable to have his support and it’s not only Occy, a lot of the surfers are saying we need more big events,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s great to have a surfer of Mark Occhilupo’s calibre speaking positively about our event, and he knows what it takes to host a prime.’’
Meanwhile Merewether’s Jesse Adam recorded the highest score of round two at the four-star men’s Burleigh Pro on Tuesday.
Adam earned a best two-wave score of 16.54 to secure a place in round three, which will feature fellow Merewether riders Jake Sylvester and Ryan Callinan.
Merewether’s Philippa Anderson is in round four of the six-star women’s event.
KING OF WAVES: Surfing royalty Mark Occhilupo at Surfest on Merewether beach in 2010. Occy has been competing at the top level since the 1980s. Picture: Simone De Peak