When Paige Hareb took to the surf at California's Oceanside Pier this morning, there were looming questions over how she would fare.
Unable to surf for the best part of six weeks due to a rib injury, there was the chance she may have been a touch rusty in her opening heat of the Supergirl Pro - a major event on the World Surf League qualifying series (QS).
However, the 28-year-old put those questions to rest straight away as she put on a display of clutch surfing to win her first heat of the day.
Hareb opened the round three heat with two fair scores of 4.27 and 4.17, before sealing the deal with a 7.40 inside the final two minutes of the heat. It was a promising display from the Taranaki surfer in her first competitive surf since late May.
Her competitive comeback was cut shorter than she'd have liked, however, as she was eliminated in the fourth round to finish in 17th place. Hawaiian Alessa Quizon ran out as the clear heat winner catching the only two bigger waves of the heat, leaving Hareb and Australian Dimity Stoyle to battle for the second qualification spot, which Stoyle got the better of.
Finishing in 17th place, Hareb improves her season points total on the QS by 1050 to take her to 7950 with four events under her belt. Heading into the contest 13th on the ladder, she's unlikely to improve despite adding a significant number of points and nine of the 12 athletes ahead of her on the ladder remain in the competition, which finishes early tomorrow morning.
Fellow Kiwi Ella Williams was in a similar position to Hareb, and was eliminated in the third round of the contest after putting on a strong display in round two yesterday. Williams, of Whangamata, received 650 points for her efforts, which improved her season count by 250. Coming into the contest ranked 39th, she is unlikely to see her situation improve.
The top six surfers on the QS ladder at the end of the year earn automatic qualification to the Championship Tour (CT) next year, along with this year's top 10 CT surfers. Should a top-10 CT surfer also finish in the top six on the QS, the next best is promoted.
While Hareb is currently on the CT, she'll likely need to requalify through the QS this year as she sits well outside the top 10 heading into the second half of the schedule. Her next opportunity to pull on a CT rashie will be next week at the Vans US Open at Huntington Beach in California, though she is yet to confirm whether or not she will be competing in the event.