‘I found my love for surfing again’

Sally Fitzgibbons and Steph Gilmore.

AFTER the worst season of her career, Sally Fitzgibbons says she has rediscovered her love of surfing as she prepares to test herself against six-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore in their first surf competition of the year.

Fitzgibbons has returned to Newcastle to defend her crown at a lead-up event to the World Surf League opener next month, while Gilmore is using the pre-season competition to work on her mental game.

The pair are the headline acts at the Anditi Pro which is part of the annual Surfest event at Newcastle this week.

It will be the first time the pair have surfed in anger since the finale of the women’s world tour last December.

“It’s a way to test my form for sure,” said Fitzgibbons, who finished a disappointing eighth on the 2016 World Tour won by compatriot Tyler Wright.

Sally Fitzgibbon at Manly Beach. Picture: Bob Barker

Sally Fitzgibbon at Manly Beach. Picture: Bob BarkerSource:News Corp Australia

“It’s been an awesome pre-season. I found my love of surfing again and I just want to see how I go.”

Gilmore, who finished sixth in 2016 in her second worse result on the tour, said her priority early season is to get her mental game “working”.

“I think last year my surfing was strong but I just could keep things together,” Gilmore said.

“It wasn’t a physical thing. It is my mental game that needs to be strengthened.”

Defending men’s champion Matt Wilkinson headlines the men’s field at the Maitland and Port Stephens Toyota Pro, which doubles as a world qualifying series event.

Wilkinson last year announced himself as a contender for the 2017 world crown with his win at Newcastle.

Also surfing will be Owen Wright, who has been cleared for competition after missing the entire 2016 surfing season with a head injury sustained in a shocking wipeout in Hawaii.

Wright will test the waters for an anticipated return to the World Tour at the event.

The same year his younger sister Tyler broke through for a maiden word surf crown Wright spent sidelined, recovering from a brain bleed and learning how to surf again.

Wright was ranked No.5 in the world when smashed in a wipeout in Hawaii just prior to the Pipeline Masters.

“Following the Newcastle event, all parties will reconvene to discuss whether Owen wishes to accept the WSL wildcard to commence the 2017 CT season,” WSL commissioner Kieren Perrow said.