Gromfest heralds new champs
By ADRIAN MILLER
THERE aren't many better ways to announce yourself on the junior surfing landscape than winning the Rusty Gromfest and from Friday next week Lennox Head will come alive to more than 350 promising young surfers attempting to do just that.
A quick look at the former winners proves just how beneficial a Gromfest title can be to those aspiring to be professional surfers, with most of those successful at Gromfest moving on to professional careers.
Men's and women's 2007 World Championship Tour ratings leaders Mick Fanning (1997) and Stephanie Gilmore (2003) are former winners, while WCT surfers who've tasted success at Lennox Head include Ben Dunn (2001), Jessi Miley-Dyer (2001), Luke Munro (1999) and Bede Durbidge (1998).
Gromfest winners litter all ranks of professional surfing, with Amee Donohue (1996), Sally Fitzgibbons (2005), Melissa McDonald (1997 and 1998) and Mischa Davis (2004) competing one rung below the WCT on the women's World Qualifying Series.
But it's not just in the pros where the contest rates a mention, with all winners making waves in amateur ranks, including 2Byron 1Bay's Ellis Ericson (2005), Sally Fitzgibbons (2005), Julian Wilson (2004), Leigh Sedley (2000) and Lauren Ringer (1999), who have all represented Australia.
Gromfest contest director Max Perrow said the event provided junior surfers with the best possible start to a surfing career.
"I think it's probably the most important event in Australia and it probably ranks just as high as being Australian champion in the amateurs," he said.
"I think most astute judges would say it's the number one event for junior surfing in Australia."
The contest, which started in 1996, this year will host about 350 boys and girls competing in Under-12s, 14s and 16s.
But it's not just participants who flock to Lennox Head for Gromfest.
"All the major surfing companies in Australia send their team managers to look at the talent and assess the surfers," Perrow said.
"It's the biggest grouping of talent scouts in any surfing event in Australia."
And it's not just the organisers singing the praises of the event.
Miley-Dyer said Gromfest was on the 'must do' list for most young surfers.
"It's the biggest contest for the young kids like us and it is also the biggest contest of its kind in the world it's almost become a Mecca for grommets," she said. Gilmore said the event certainly played a part in her rise to the top.
"I think Gromfest was the start to my competing thirst as I'm pretty sure it is with many other grommets who have gone in it," she said. "It's such a great event; I get stoked just thinking about it."
While surfers come from all over Australia to compete at Lennox Head, local surfers will be among the favourites this year.
World junior surfing champion Garret Parkes (Byron Bay) is favourite for the Under-16s, but he'll face strong competition from Lennox Head's Tom Steele and Luke Streader.
In the Under-14s boys, Nikki Hoskin2 (Lennox 1Head) is in with a shot, while in the Under-12s Soli Bailey (Byron Bay) and Zac Whightman (Lennox head) will be among the leaders.
In the Under-14s girls, Stephanie Single (Byron Bay) and Lana Parkes (Byron Bay) should do well, while Lyla Wright (Suffolk Park), Aurora Ericson (Suffolk) and Maddi King will challenge in the Under-16s.
Perrow said the Gromfest had enormous benefits for local surfers.
"Even though this area has received a lot of recognition recently through people like Garret and Ellis, it has lagged behind places like Sydney and the Gold Coast," he said.
"This comp has provided local surfers with a chance to not only prove themselves but get recognition and support by the surfing industry. It's one thing to be a good surfer but to make it you need that support."