SURFING: Competitive surfing had been put on the backburner for Eli Steele in recent years, but the thrill of winning came rushing back at Moffat Beach yesterday afternoon.
The former Australian under-18 champion proved he still had the desire to win when he took out the Pa and Ma Bendall Memorial Surf Contest open men's final at his home break.
An apprentice carpenter, Steele only turned 21 last week.
He said he wanted to get a trade under his belt before he even considered making a tilt at professional surfing, and for now was happy to celebrate the win with his mates.
And he has grand plans for the $2000 cheque he scored after winning the final.
"I'm heading to New York for a trip in about a month," he said.
"The prizemoney will help, especially on an apprentice's wage."
Steele took the early lead and held off five-time champion Dave Reardon-Smith and under-18s runner-up Thomas Prout in tricky conditions.
Despite being in control for most of the final, Steele said nerves kicked-in when Reardon-Smith made a late charge.
But solid wave selection proved to be the winning method and Steele was thrilled to take his first open title at the competition.
"Obviously everybody out there can surf well - it's just a matter of picking the right wave," he said.
"This is definitely a very prestigious event locally. Everyone on the Coast knows about it and enters, I guess.
"Everybody out there was really relaxed ... there were no negative vibes."
A bizzare situation moments before the final saw the four-man event reduced to three, when teen sensation Harry Bryant was called away by his sponsors for a photo shoot in New Zealand.
Organiser Terry Landsdowne said Harry was "very apologetic", and his absence didn't have any major impact on what was another successful tournament.
"Having Moffat's break three days in a row is quite rare. Often, you get bad winds, but it was probably one of our most successful weekend's for a number of years," he said.
Hinako Kurokawa held-off Coast surfers Sophie McCulloch and Laura Poncini to win the open women's final.