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Fitzgibbons looks to Surfest for inspiration

PERENNIAL bridesmaid Sally Fitzgibbons says she is hungrier than ever to win the world title.
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FOND MEMORY: Sally Fitzgibbons is all smiles after winning the Surfest Women’s Classic in 2012 at Merewether beach. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

And given her love affair with Newcastle, she can’t think of a better place to prepare for her eighth campaign on the championship tourthan Surfest.

Fitzgibbons, a three-time runner-up in the world title race,is top seed for the February 22-28Surfest Women’s Classic, which returns to6000-point status on the world qualifying series after a drop last year to 1000 points.The decrease in 2015 and a hand injury in 2014 means Fitzgibbons is making her first trip to Newcastle since finishing runner-up in 2013 to Dimity Stoyle. A year earlier, Fitzgibbonswon Surfest.

Third last year on the elite tour, the Gerroa productis “super excited” to kick off her 2016 World Surf League season in the Hunter before the CT opener at Snapper Rocks from March 10.

“I love competing in the Newcastle region,” Fitzgibbons, 25, said.“I grew up coming up the coast for everything from grom events, through the pro junior series. It’s been a couple of years now, and when we had the option of what lead-up event I wanted to do, I just couldn’t get it out of my head that I wanted to come up the coast and compete at Newcastle.

“I just think the community, the waves, everything about the region, I just love coming up.I’ve got some really fond memories.I had a great win in one of my first pro juniors at Nobbys [in 2006] and also at Merewether at Surfest, so I think I just really resonate with the beach breaks.

“It’s pretty similar to home on the south coast and I think I just feel really at home because of the community.It’s a really nice week just to get your feet back in the water and feel ready to compete.”

The natural-footer is arguably Australia’s most successfulsurfer never to win a world title. But rather than a source of frustration, she says the close shaves are a driving force this year.

“This is my eighth season on the tour, and I’m really proud to be a top-five surfer since my inception on the elite level,” she said.“All those nearmisses, those runner-ups, are such good inspiration. It’s really helped me have the hunger to continually develop my surfing. You never know,if I’d won that title earlier, I might have that tendency to sit back and go, ‘I’m on the right track’.

“So I’m always on the front foot and these last six months I’ve made some great changes to my surfing, and hopefully it can bring out that next-level performance, especially in those really clutch moments.There’s always those couple of times the title has been won or lost. I look back on thathalf apoint or little moment in the final, and I just want that tide to turn in those clutch moments andbe minethis year.

“I’m definitely more hungry than ever. I’m ready to go.”

Fitzgibbons is well-known for her high-level fitness but believes changes in her surfingstyle are the key to securing a maiden world title.

“Off-the-board training is something Ilove to continually develop butI think moresothe changes will come from the style of my surfing, the lines I’m drawing on the wave,” she said.

“Just to have that fresh look at it, you want to be producing something different for the judges going eight years deep.

“Hopefully that aspect is there and the power with it.”

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