Oh Huey, if only you’d had a little more gusto.

It seemed as if the wave god had all but blown himself out this morning with little but a dismal ripple wrapping into First Point. The Executive decision was made to change location, moving to the alternate venue further down the beach that has been thankfully illusive in this year’s proceedings.

The Juniors were the first to paddle out into the beach break, and the matter of a few hundred metres made a significant difference to conditions, a clean, two-foot beach break offering more than ample lines for competitors.

A strong Hawaiian presence, girls that have become very close friends with her over the recent years of the festival were not enough to deny Liliana Bowrey and incredible win in the Bondi Bandits Girls’ Under 15. The Queensland shortboard champ proved that she is just as adept on the longer equipment, and Liliana took a competent win.

In the Under 15 boys, presented by Surf Lifesaving Sunscreen, Dallas Rogers surfed superbly – being awarded the Lions Club Encouragement Award at the afternoon’s presentations – but it was not enough to hold back the excellent skills of festival first-timer, Californian Tommy Coleman.

The Noosa Juniors Women’s Under 18 was simply too close to call. Any one of the six finalists was more than worthy of the victory, but the draw could not be split half a dozen waves. The Schremmer sisters of Lola and Mason surfed brilliantly, as did American Avalon Gall, but it would be Soleil Errico’s name that would grace the top of the ladder.

In the Pacific Longboarder Men’s Under 18, little could doubt the fact that Kaniela Stewart would be the firm favourite. The 16-year-old gained the festival’s only perfect ten-point score earlier in the week, and it came as little surprise that he emerged victorious, surfed impeccably to his credit.

At the other end of the age spectrum, Byron Bay’s Rusty Miller once more defended his title in the Magoo Memorial 70 & Over Open, while in the 65s, presented by Noosa Civic, Bruce Channon was a familiar name yet very deserved winner over fellow New South Welshman Steve O’Donnell.

Ticking down the age brackets, the Kennards Hire Men’s 60 & Over definitively proved that talent doesn’t have a shelf life. Eric Walker surfed masterfully once more this year, with Albie Curtis battling hard to defend his title, but it was an on-form Michael Cottier who would be crowned winner.

It wasn’t far from an all-Noosa final in the Salt Magazine Men’s 55 & Over, with Wally Allan and Scotto Ford both doing well, and former Noosa Malibu Club president, a superbly on-form Glen Gower claiming victory.

In the World Surfaris Men’s 50-plus, defending champion Hayden Swan definitely had his work cut out for him. Former Englishman, now residing in New South Wales, JP Wills did well, while Chris ‘Guts’ Griffiths charged hard. In the last minute, Ricky Judelena was unable to bridge the narrow margins and Swan went back to back, retaining his crown.

In the last of the age division, it was great to see Jason Blewitt back on Noosa shores once more, the high profile and high-performance Australian longboarder back after a hiatus of many years. While he still displayed much of his old style, it was not enough to catch defending champion and 2018 winner, Damien Coulter.

Many of the Sun & Earth Women’s Over 35 division could have surfed in a division 10 years the senior. Peppie Simpson, a frequent division champion, was back after a year off, but couldn’t find form to claim victory, leaving that to fellow local and surfdancer, Kristy Quirk.

Always an incredibly energetic event, the Classic Malibu Teams Challenge was fiercely contested. The Dawgs team pushed hard, the defending team of Ray White Noosa challenged, but it would be the Surf Reliks team of Josh Constable, Soleil Errico and Taylor Jensen who would raise the trophy.

With the end of the Teams Challenge, so too ended our relegation to the beach breaks, and a pause in proceedings welcomed a return to the true home of the Laguna Real Estate Noosa Festival of Surfing, First Point.

The Halse Lodge Women’s Open was the first out at the new venue, and World Champion Honolua Blomfield was on form, as too were fellow Hawaiians Sierra Lerback and Kirra Seale. Nava Young could not draw on her form of the previous few days, but it would Soleil Errico who would hear her name called in the number one spot.

The one-two finalsts of the Laguna Real Estate Men’s open brought a local duo to the fore, and it was interesting the see the vastly contrasting styles of Nic Jones and Nic Brewer respectively. Just behind the Sunshine Coast pair, American Jesse Gerrems displayed a dynamic and versatile repertoire, but it would be the two Nics who would surf the heat to victory, Jones narrowly overcoming Brewer on his last wave.

Kaimana Takayama graciously carried his old man into the lead and win the Bendigo Bank Family Challenge, a division that saw a very distinct changing of the guard, with no sign of perennial family finalists, the Nortons, Jack and John, and the always-strong Dave and Dane Wilson. Locals Tom Schuler, who has surfed excellently across numerous divisions this week, and his partner Chris Cox took bronze, while the international field of finalists was completed by UK father-son team, Chris and Connor Griffiths.

The penultimate heat of 2018 was the much-anticipated Underground Surf Old Mal. Dusted off, lovingly restored, the pre-1968 equipment was testament to halcyon days, when First Point was lucky to see a surfer, even on the most perfect of days. Defending champion Jared Mell could not quite find his flow this year, with small waves and long lulls proving challenging for all. So too for local surfer-shaper, Thomas Bexon, and despite some stunning drop-knee turns and elegant noserides, Matt Chojnacki failed to find the wave of consequence.

Jack Norton has taken his share of silver podium spots and semi-final berths, but – save for the Family Challenge – has not in recent years claimed the trophy in any of the numerous divisions he has entered. His hard work, tenacity and exceptional small-wave skills paid off today though, and the presentations would see him jubilantly crowned king of the Old Mal for 2018.

The grand final event was a stunning, down-to-the-wire battle, mere tenths of a second counting for everything in the Golden Breed Noserider Pro. Renowned worldwide as one of the finest noseriders on the planet, Jai Lee opened strongly and scored would quite possibly have been the highest-scoring wave of the final, a huge hang-ten from take-off, far exceeding the potential of the diminutive waves. But on each wave, he fell from the nose, and with surfers required to return to behind the tape marking the front 50 centimetres of their board, both waves would be deemed incomplete, scored zero.

Alex ‘Cuts Doloro’ Bullpitt was narrowly off the pace, the availability of good waves far more at fault than his performance or abilities. With five minutes remaining and radio silence ensuing on the scores, Dane Pioli held a strong lead, but on his final wave, Kaimana Takayama took a set wave and rode it masterfully, holding toes on the nose for almost the entire length of ride. Dane Pioli couldn’t back up, so it would be the judges’ final additions of score that would define the victor. When the numbers were calculated, it came down to a single second in favour of Pioli, Takayama falling into second by the narrowest of margins.

With surfing over, the masses migrated to the XXXX Summer Beach Bar for the presentations. It was a tearful festival director who took to the stage in thanks of all who make the festival possible, Sam Smith thanking everyone from contestants and volunteers to her supportive family that devotes itself to the event year-round.

The long list of finalists slowly trailed onto and back off the stage, collecting their stunning recycled timber awards, courtesy of JABShots and EcoBling, and the partying could begin…almost! Every year, the festival draws a lucky competitor’s name from the hat to win some incredible prizes, the foremost being a World Surfaris surf trip for two. This year’s fabulous destination was aboard the Manta Surf Charter in the Malé Atolls of the Maldives, and it was an utterly speechless Summer Gauld who received the prize from World Surfaris director, John Finlay.

Byron Bay band Sunrose opened the evening with an immaculate rendition of the Doors’ ‘Riders on the Storm’, apt choice of tune on many levels, and started of an evening of celebrations in fine form.

Amazing times, amazing waves, amazing surfing and amazing surfing – it was a year like no other at the Laguna Real Estate Noosa Festival of Surfing.

Photos: Ian Borland & www.surfshots.com.au