Heading into the first major World Surf League qualifying series (QS) event of the season, Kiwi Paige Hareb said with the competition starting so early it felt like it was just carrying on from last year.
It showed in her surfing, as Hareb dealt with tough conditions and near exits to finish fifth in the Florida Pro QS6000 and kick her campaign off with 2650 points.
After some clutch surfing earlier in the event, Hareb was eliminated in the quarterfinals by top seed Tatiana Weston-Webb of Hawaii.
The 27-year-old from Taranaki was left looking for an 8.96 when time expired in the heat, finding very little on offer in the testing two-foot swell.
The result sees Hareb start the year in a strong position on the QS ladder heading into the Australian leg next month before she returns to the Championship Tour.
Hareb was one of four Kiwis competing in the event, but with national champion Raiha Ensor, Ella Williams and Tiana-Breeze de Mooij all eliminated by round three, by the time Hareb got in the water she was the last Kiwi hope.
The Taranaki surfer's opening heat was an interesting one. While Hareb, Hawaiian Summer Macedo and American Meah Collins struggled to find quality scores, Japan's Minori Kawai dominated – posting two eights in the heat.
With time ticking down, Macedo held second place over Hareb who was left needing a score of seven or higher to jump over Macedo and move on.
She left it as late as possible, but took off on a right with five seconds left in the heat and executed some strong backhand surfing to score a 7.10 at the buzzer and move on to round four.
It was a similar heat again as Weston-Webb was scoring at will, leaving Hareb to battle for the second spot to move on. Again, she was up to the task and moved on to the round of 16 where she got the better of Australian Claire Bevilacqua to book her place in the quarterfinal.
Young American Caroline Marks took out the competition, which was being held for the first time, beating Australian Bronte Macauley in the final.