IF the surfing world required further proof Nathan Hedge's comeback ambitions were genuine, it came at the US Open of Surfing at Huntington Beach earlier this week.
The 33-year-old Buderim goofy-footer, who only months ago launched an audacious bid to return to the top level after a two-year hiatus, continued a string of consistent results to progress through his three trial heats of the Prime event and qualify for the main draw.
His run may have ended in heat one of the first round - along with that of compatriot and dual world champion Mick Fanning - but the 400 points and $1000 in prizemoney are a nice bonus as he prepares to head to Europe.
"I've had a couple of years off and we've just had the rankings change for the back half of the year, so I'm going full throttle for the remainder of the year," Hedge told the Association of Surfing Professionals website.
"After this I'm heading to Europe and just going to be full-on."
Hedge outscored Fanning 12.77 to 6.66 in the heat, but it was not enough to overcome 18-year-old Floridian Evan Geiselman (14.68) and fellow American Tanner Gudaskas (14.20), who both progressed to the next round.
Since heralding his return by winning the Queensland Championships Circuit series in May, Hedge has been gradually rediscovering his world top-10 form of 2004.
Also at Huntington Beach, fellow Coast surfers Julian Wilson and Mitch Coleborn progressed through the first round and were due to surf their round-two heats earlier this morning.
Coolum-based Wilson produced the highest heat score of the event, an 18.54 (out of 20), to set up a showdown with world No.2 Joel Parkinson, American Pat Gudaskas and Brazilian Alejo Muniz.
Never one to shy away from an aerial, Wilson highlighted his performance with a near-perfect score of 9.87 for a front-side 360 - which was the talk of the round.
Coleborn, who finished second behind Hawaiian young gun John John Florence in his round-one heat, was due to face aerial specialist Josh Kerr, Willian Cardoso and Nat Young in the next round.
Florence posted a 12.87 to win, and Coleborn (9.87) edged out 2000 world champion Sunny Garcia to progress to the next round.
Despite Fanning and Taj Burrow bowing out in round one, the competition is still stacked with stars, including 11-time world champion, Kelly Slater, who has already secured a place in the no-losers round.
ON THE PATH BACK
Nathan Hedge's 2012 results
May 23: 1st, Chiko Queensland Championship Circuit series
May 29: Finalist, WQS South Korea
July 13: Round of 48, Billabong Pro Jeffrey's Bay
July 30: Round of 96, US Open of Surfing
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