Australian surfing stars Stephanie Gilmore and Tyler Wright have scored come-from-behind wins to reach the quarter-finals at Bells Beach where compatriot Sally Fitzgibbons already awaits, through after an earlier heat win.  

Gilmore made a slow start against Manuel, who took control with 7.33 and 8.33 wave scores. But the Australian six-time world champion fought back with a 7.2 and 8.67 to scrape through 15.87 to 15.66.

"Maybe I just wasn't paying attention prior to my heat as closely as I should have been," Gilmore said.

"I was waiting for something (and) it took me about 15 minutes to figure out it wasn't going to come. It really wasn't a good strategy - Malia had the perfect start and kept working.

"I just was lucky I had that one gem right towards the end of the heat."

Asked what was going through her mind during the heat, Gilmore said: "Please make this heat, because I want to surf tomorrow - it's going to be so pumping.

"I couldn't live with myself ... I guess it was just enough to light the fire to pull something together."

Wright appeared to make a tactical mistake in her heat when she caught a small wave and gave priority to Van Dijk while trailing. 

But she finished with a flourish and won 14.44 to 14.27 on her 22nd birthday and avoided eliminations. 

"It felt like I sat for 17 minutes and then I caught that little one - funnily enough, I didn't think it was a mistake," she said.

"Then those last two sets, Nikki got the first one and I got the second one. It played out in my favour, three big turns, I was pretty happy with that."

In the other heats, Alessa Quizon beat Bianca Buitendag and Johanne Defray of France dispatched Australian Bronte Macaulay. 

The quarter finals

Organisers moved Thursday's four heats from the Bells bowl to one-metre conditions at the nearby Winkipop break. The forecast is for much better conditions on Friday back at Bells Beach.