Margaret River’s iconic international surf event has been elevated to the pinnacle of the WQS (World Qualifying Series) circuit, with the newly-named ‘Drug Aware Pro Margaret River presented by O’Neill’ announced today as the world’s only male and female six-star, prime-rated WQS tournament on the 2007 ASP (Association of Surfing Professionals) calendar.

Thanks to support from new local naming rights sponsor Healthway (promoting the Drug Aware message in conjunction with Western Australia’s Drug & Alcohol Office), the event will run from March 26 to April 1, 2007, at the renowned Surfers Point in Margaret River. It is expected to attract more than 240 professional male and female surfers from across the globe.

Competitors will vie for prime rating points and prize money totalling US$155,000, comprising US$125,000 for the men’s title and US$30,000 for the women’s honours. According to Western Australia’s Acting Minister for Tourism Mark McGowan, the new elevated status of the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro strengthened Margaret River’s reputation as a ‘prime’ location on the international surfing calendar.

“Margaret River’s reputation for world-class surf, award-winning wines, gourmet food, as well as stunning scenery is a combination that I’m sure will delight competitors and visitors alike," Mr McGowan said.

Jenn Morris, Chair of Healthway’s Board, said its major financial support of the event provided a platform to spread the all-important Drug Aware message to surf fans and young people across WA: “Healthway has been a long-time sponsor of surfing in WA, including involvement for a number of years in the Margaret River event," Ms Morris said. “In deciding to increase our commitment to this year’s event, the Board saw an opportunity to not only capitalise on the event’s popularity among young people, but to also re-establish a high-profile event for women surfers."

The Drug Aware Pro Margaret River will feature 192 male and 48 female surfers representing some of the best in the world. Included in the field will be West Aussies Melanie Redman-Carr (ranked 2nd in the world) and Claire Bevilacqua (7th), together with Taj Burrow (4th), and Jake Paterson (32nd) who recently retired from the WCT (World Championship Tour).

Burrow said the reaction from competitors to the news of the six-star prime rating had been extremely positive and would stand the contest in good stead to attract a strong field of entrants. “The competition is always solid, but with the new six-star rating and prime points up for grabs, this year will be even more intense," Burrow said. “All the surfers from around the world really love Margaret River as a contest location too, because it’s such a beautiful region – the great surf culture, great waves."

The local lads will be up against former world champion and reigning contest champion Mark Occhilupo (ranked 26th), who, at age 40, continues to impress. He completed a fairytale finish at last year’s Margaret River Pro, beating Paterson in a nail-biting and somewhat controversial final to claim his second victory at Margaret River after winning the inaugural contest 22 years ago (in 1985).

‘Occy’ is confirmed to return to Margaret River to defend his title, this time with his wife and kids travelling with him as support crew. Organisers anticipate this year’s upgraded contest will draw top international entrants from both the WQS and WCT, representing surfing superpowers of Hawaii, mainland USA, Brazil, South Africa, France, Spain, Portugal and Australia.

Among them will be O’Neill surfers Timmy Reyes (California, USA) ranked 11th, Corey Lopez (Florida, USA) ranked 12th, and WQS surfer Jarrad Howse (NSW) who will be hungry to reclaim a place on the WCT. Others to watch will be the Hobgood brothers (Damien and CJ, ranked 7th and 16th respectively) and Brazil’s Neco Padaratz (ranked 7th on the WQS).

Padaratz, who took out the tournament in 2004, used last year’s Margaret River event to relaunch his assault on the world tour following his controversial, forced withdrawal from the WCT in 2005. Incredibly, he rose from the bottom of the WQS ratings to requalify for the WCT in 2007 – in similar fashion to Australia’s Mick Campbell (NSW), currently ranked 2nd on the WQS and who is also set to return to compete at the Drug Aware Pro Margaret River.

As well as intense competition between some of the world’s best surfers, spectators at the 2007 Drug Aware Pro Margaret River will be treated to high-action skate and BMX vert ramp demonstrations, live bands and a festival atmosphere overlooking the surf at Surfers Point.

The 2007 Drug Aware Pro Margaret River marks the 23rd year of international surfing competition at Margaret River. During its history, competitors have endured every type of surf condition the powerful Indian Ocean can serve up. From perfect Hawaiian-style big waves to frighteningly out-of-control onshore surf, competitors have consistently risen to the challenge, paddling out to conquer Margaret’s legendary, giant swell head-on.

Entry is only $8 or $15 for families - children under six are admitted free. Ticket includes free bus transfers to and from Surfers Point. Parking is free. The event will be broadcast live via the internet on www.drugaware.com (website currently under construction).

www.margaretriver.com

www.drugawarepro.com