The Piha Pro has secured it's first big-name competitor in the form of inspirational Hawaiian surfer Bethany Hamilton.
After taking time away from the sport to film a documentary, Hamilton will focus on competing again in 2020 - starting in Auckland.
"I am putting an emphasis on competition this year," Hamilton said. "I've always had a passion for competition.
"I feel like I'm at a time in life where I'm surfing better than ever and feel like I'd do well on the World Tour. It's a place I've always seen myself, so I figure I'd take another stab at qualifying and have fun along the way."
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Shortly before her hiatus Bethany competed as a wildcard in a number of CT events, most notably finishing equal 3rd at the 2016 Fiji Women's Pro in pumping surf at Cloudbreak.
With 10,000 points on offer for the winner of the Piha Pro, opportunities in major events such as this can be life-changing for the competitors.
The 29-year-old Hamilton has been an inspirational figure in the surfng community for years after continuing to pursure a career in the sport at a high level despite losing her left arm in a shark attack in 2013 at the age of 13. Her journey was retold on the big screen in the 2011 film 'Soul Surfer' - which was based on Hamilton's 2004 autobiography.
She has competed in competitions on both the World Surf League qualifying series and World Championship Tour, with a third-placed finish in Fiji her best effort on the CT.
World Surf League senior vice-president of tours and events Jessi Miley-Dyer said Hamilton was a perfect candidate for the international wildcard at the event.
As well as competing, Hamilton will help lead the World Surf League Rising Tides programme at Piha, in which local girls of all ages will have the opportunity to share waves and stories with some of the world's best female surfers.
"Bethany is one of the most inspirational humans in the world," Miley-Dyer said. "Not only
is she an incredible surfing athlete, but a woman with incredible passion and determination. The WSL is really excited to see one of our sports biggest icons, fully
commit to the Challenger Series in 2020 and can't wait to see her share her time with the
young girls from the Piha and greater New Zealand surfing community."
The Piha Pro will see the World Surf League return to New Zealand shores for the first time since in more than five years, with its last event a women's 6000-rated Qualifying Series (QS) event held in Taranaki.
As part of the new WSL Challenger Series, the inaugural Piha Pro is expected to attract a huge international field with some of surfing's biggest stars coming up against New Zealand's most promising talent. Additionally, the event will offer equal prize money to both men and women.
The event will run a Auckland's Piha Beach from March 16-22.