Local surfing hero, Garrett Parkes (Byron Bay), overcame a shaky start to win his first heat of the 2006 Quiksilver Australian Grommet Titles presented by Samsung which recommenced in clean three-foot (1m) waves at Sharps Beach, near Ballina with round one heats of the U/16 Boys and U/16 Girls hitting the water yesterday.

Parkes, who lives just up the road at Byron but is a regular at Sharps, admitted to being a touch nervous and even looked a little twitchy on his opening rides, but soon settled into a rhythm and found the waves he needed to overcome New South Wales surfer Tom Myers (Freshwater), West Australian Matt Baldock (Margaret River) and Victoria’s Leewan Allison (Mallacoota).

Parkes’s flashy recovery saw him finish on 12.53 points and advance directly to the quarter-finals with Myers advancing behind him on 10.90 points. Baldock and Allison finished in third and fourth respectively and were forced into the repercharge.

“I couldn’t get into rhythm at first because there was no waves coming through, but then I snuck into a couple near the end," explained Parkes, clearly a little frustrated. “But I surf here a fair bit so that helps knowing what the waves are going to do. I knew if I sat in the right spot, I’d be able to pick off a couple of good ones."

Powerful NSW goofy foot Dean Bowen (Gerroa), one of Parkes’ main rivals in the week-long event and among the favourites to take the U/16 title, also experienced a slow start in his first heat. Bowen was forced to wait until after the halfway mark against Davey Cathels (Narrabeen, NSW), Eli Criaco (Coolum, NSW) and Tod Quartermaine (Mandurah, WA) before nabbing a long left and belting it to secure a good scoring wave of 7.17.

Moments later Bowen struck again, stealing an excellent right hander from beneath the noses of his competitors and he slammed it tightly three times on his backhand for an excellent score of 8.83 and the heat lead which was never vanquished.

Other U/16 Boys to secure round one heat wins and advance directly to the quarter-finals with were Justin Turk (Port Macquarie, NSW), Mitchell Baker (Phillip Island, Victoria), Darcy Maynard (Karrinyup, WA) and yesterday’s All-Stars standout James Woods (Coolangatta, Qld).

U/16 Girls Laura Enever (Narrabeen, NSW), Tyler Wright (Culburra, NSW) and Dimity Stoyle (Maroochydore, Qld) also had convincing heat wins yesterday with Enever overcoming a solid push from West Australian Felicity Palmateer (Hillarys). On two waves, Enever ultimately got the better of Palmateer who advanced through behind her in second, but Palmateer scored bragging rights for one ride, an impressive 8.33, the highest of the round.

In the first of the U/18 Boys repercharge heats, the Sharps line-up turned from orderly to frantic as notable names Blake Ainsworth (Coolangatta, Qld), Shaun Howe (Kalbarri, WA) and Jesse Adam (Merewether, NSW) jostled for the best positioning, desperate to avoid elimination.

Ainsworth stayed clear of the pack to pick off a couple of clean rides and stay alive on 12.47 points, ahead of Howe who scraped into second on 11.84 points, followed by a disappointed Adam who was eliminated on 11.64, just two-tenths of a point short. Victoria’s Campbell Downey (Airey’s Inlet) suffered an interference call during one paddling exchange.

Also bowing out yesterday in the U/18 Boys individuals were Cahill Bell-Warren (Jan Juc, Vic), Will Bakker (Tas) and South Australians Jay Thurgood (Seaford) and Josh Berrett (Seaford). All surfers will still have shots at national titles, however, via the All-Stars and MR Shield Schools divisions which continued with the round robin formats in the afternoon.

Local surfer Stuart Kennedy (Lennox Head, NSW) backed up his impressive performance from day by locking in another of the event’s highest individual wave scores. Teaming up with Jesse Allen for NSW in the U/19 Boys All-Stars, Kennedy smashed a head-high wave to a near-perfect score of 9.43 out of a possible 10.

The outstanding performance of the afternoon however went to dynamic NSW duo Sally Fitzgibbons (Gerroa) and Enever, who paired together in the U/19 Girls All-Stars to defeat Tasmanian girls Sammi Faulkner and Edi Hogarth.

Fitzgibbons showed why she is one of the most watched juniors in the country, picking off an ideal long left-hand breaking wave, then “going to town" on it by performing a series of committed and relentless backhand snaps. The judges awarded Fitzgibbons with the first perfect score of the tournament.

Enever struck next, posting a near-perfect 9.60 wave. Together the pair’s combined scores were easily the highest of all heats surfed in the event thus far.

The Quiksilver Australian Grommet Titles presented by Samsung features nearly 200 competitors and will run until the weekend. The competition is proudly supported by Surfing Australia, Surfing NSW, Roxy, Ballina Shire Council and the Australian School Surfing Association.

Winners of the U/18 boys, U/18 girls and U/16 boys divisions are automatically selected to represent Australia at the 2007 Quiksilver ISA World Junior Championships to be held in Portugal next May.

The list of past Australian champion reads like a who’s who of surfing including current big names Joel Parkinson (Coolangatta, QLD), Taj Burrow (Yallingup, WA), Phillip MacDonald (Tomakin,NSW), Tom Whitaker (Bronte), Dean Morrison (Gold Coast), Ben Dunn (Old Bar, NSW) reigning world champion Chelsea Georgeson (Avalon, NSW), Jessi Miley-Dyer (Bronte) and Stephanie Gilmore (Kingscliff, NSW).

Previous legend title holders include Tom Carroll (Newport), Damien Hardman (Narrabeen), Wayne Lynch (Vic), Simon Anderson (Narrabeen), Peter Drouyn (Gold Coast) and Nick Wood (Newcastle).

Also up for grabs are the prestigious Duke Kahanomoku and Isabel Letham perpetual awards granted to the tournament’s most impressive male and female surfers.

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