Florence aiming for winning surf restart

Hawaiian John John Florence will look to keep his World Surf League lead when competition restarts in Newcastle after a three-month break due to COVID-19.

JOHN JOHN FLORENCE.
JOHN JOHN FLORENCE. Picture: Buda Mendes/Getty Images

While disappointed not to have two events in Hawaii, two-time world champion John John Florence is happy to kick-start the World Surf League in Australia where he's had plenty of success.

Florence heads into the Newcastle Cup at Merewether beach, which opens on Thursday, as the men's leader, having beaten Brazilian surfer Gabriel Medina in the final of the Pipe Masters in December 2020.

Australia's Tyler Wright will wear the yellow jersey after she overcame local favourite Carissa Moore to win the women's Maui Pro.

That round three months ago was the only held so far, with others including the Sunset Cup in Florence's home of Hawaii and also the annual Easter Bells Beach Classic, cancelled or rescheduled due to COVID-19.

A new calender lined up four consecutive competitions in Australia, with Narrabeen next, and then Margaret River and Rottnest Island.

Florence was among the international brigade of surfers who had to quarantine in a Sydney hotel before heading straight to Newcastle to familiarise himself with the conditions.

"Quarantine was an interesting experience for sure and it was definitely pretty hard toward the end and then I've been re-calibrating to get moving again," Florence told AAP.

"The waves have been really fun and it feels good to be in the water and getting ready for the event."

Florence hadn't surfed the Merewether break before and while he grew up riding some monster waves in Hawaii like Jaws, felt he could flourish in the small conditions forecast for Thursday.

He has been drawn against Tyler's younger brother Mikey Wright and Brazilian Yago Dora in the opening heat.

There are 13 Australian men in action including Olympians Julian Wilson and the oldest of the Wright trio, Owen, while American superstar Kelly Slater is out injured.

"I'm just looking at the little wave that right in front of the contest site over this little reef and it kind of reminds me of some waves at home," the 28-year-old said.

"Working on the smaller wave boards is fun for me cause I don't get to do that much at home."

Looking to add to his 2016 and 2017 titles, Florence said he'd been excited to open with back-to-back events in Hawaii but felt comfortable in Australia where he has won three times - twice at Margaret River and once at Bells.

"I was definitely disappointed in not being able to surf the Sunset event but I'm happy to be here in Australia, knowing we have a good chance of running four events in a row," Florence said.

"I've had a lot of really fun events in Australia and there's so many great waves so it feels good being back."

Tyler Wright opens against another Australian Keely Andrews and American Lakey Peterson, while there is a nine-strong local women's field including Olympians Sally Fitzgibbons and Stephanie Gilmore.