It might be a new year, but Kiwi surfer Ella Williams knows the same old challenge awaits her as she gears up for the start of the World Surf League qualifying series.

Williams sets out on her fifth full campaign on the series this year with her sights set on achieving her dream of reaching the Championship Tour.

This year, the long journey toward qualification begins about a month earlier than in recent years with the addition of a new QS6000 event in Florida's Sebastian Inlet.

Read more: Resolute Kiwi charges back into big time


QS6000 events are the most important in terms of the qualification picture as they have the most points on offer. With that in mind, the 23-year-old from Whangamata said she was excited to get her campaign under way early.

The swell at the Sebastian Inlet wasn't known for its size, but Williams said that was to be expected.

"It's always pretty grovelly on the QS so you always prepare for that and anything over 2ft is just a bonus really. We've had pretty little waves at home all summer so I should be ready for Florida."

To make it to Florida for the opening event, Williams had to relinquish the chance to defend her NZ title, with time restraints keeping her from competing in Gisborne for the event.

Gutted as she was about being unable to go for a three-peat, Williams said it just added fuel to the fire heading into her QS season.

"It was really unfortunate that I couldn't make it. I was gutted not being able to defend that ... but the nationals will always be there.

"For me it's my number one goal to get onto the world tour and you know to win another world title one day is my dream."

Williams, who won the junior world title in 2013, has finished inside the top 50 on the QS in each of the past four years, with her best finish being 29th place — which she achieved in both 2015 and 2016.

To guarantee qualification to the women's CT, a surfer needs to finish inside the top six on the QS. However, if a CT surfer finishes in the top six on the QS but gains requalification with a top-10 finish on the CT, the next best QS surfer gets promoted.

Paige Hareb will return to the World Surf League Championship Tour this year. Photo / WSL
Paige Hareb will return to the World Surf League Championship Tour this year. Photo / WSL

Such was the case for fellow Kiwi Paige Hareb, who will use the event in Florida to kick her year off on the right foot before returning to the CT in March. Hareb finished ninth on the QS in 2017 and claimed the final spot on this year's CT as a result.

Ahead of next week's opening QS event, Hareb admitted the early start made it feel as though she hadn't really had a break as last season only finished in November, but that may work in her favour.

"It's almost just like last year rolling on. I feel like I'm still a QS surfer with maybe a bit more confidence. I don't think (being back on the CT) will sink in until my first heat at Snapper Rocks in March."

QS6000 events on the WSL Women's QS for 2018

• Florida Pro, Florida, USA. January 19-25
• Grandstand Sports Clinic Women's Pro, Newcastle, Australia. February 19-25
• Vissla Sydney Surf Pro, Manly, Australia, February 26-March 4
• Los Cabos Open of Surf, Costa Azul, Mexico. June 14-18 (dates tentative)
• Supergirl Pro, California, USA. July 28-30 (dates tentative)
• Galicia Pro, Pantin, Spain. August 27-September 2 (dates tentative)
• Port Stephens Pro, Port Stephens, Australia. November 8-11 (dates tentative)

All dates in NZ time.