Former world tour surfer Matt Banting has got his 2020 requalification quest off to a fine start with a win in his first event of the year.

Banting took out the QS3,000 Vissla Central Coast Pro at Avoca on Sunday, beating fellow Aussie Sheldon Simkus in the final after a comfortable run through the event. The Port Macquarie native said he felt at home in the punchy beachbreak conditions and was stoked to get the chance to surf so many heats.

“It was my first contest of the year and there were a few nerves and cobwebs and then next minute I’m in the final and winning it,” he said. “People say you learn more when you lose but I reckon you learn more when you win. The more heats you surf the more scenarios that get thrown at you.” 

Banting got his 2019 campaign off to a similarly strong start, backing up a win at the Great Lakes Pro with a runner-up finish at the Central Coast Pro and a third at the Burton Automotive Pro in Newcastle, but it was in the latter part of the year the wheels fell off. In contention up until the last two events in Hawaii, he suffered back to back early-round exits and slipped to 21st on the ratings.

Looking back, he admitted there were a number of tough calls and luckless scenarios that contributed to his undoing, but the outcome ultimately rested on his shoulders.

“It was nearly in my grasp and then I just let it slip away,” he said. “I didn’t have the same approach that I did at the start of the year. The main thing was the pressure I put on myself.”

To avoid a similar fate this year, the 25-year-old wants to wrap things up early and enjoy a stress-free Hawaiian season.

“You want to have the pressure off a couple of events before,” he said.

He plans to do it by taking out one of the eight Challenger Series events on the schedule, which he sees not only as a major stepping stone back onto the tour but a major reminder to himself and others that he belongs among the world’s best. Watching former junior rivals like Wade Carmichael, Ryan Callinan and Jack Freestone hold their own at the top level also serves as a good source of motivation.

“You just want to be there with them,” he said.

Following a day off to recuperate from his win, he’ll line up at the Surfest Newcastle Pro, which got underway in cooking conditions at Merewether today, March 2.

He surfs in heat 22 of the round of 96.