There were big wins and tough losses in the Ballito Pro pres. by O’Neill at Willard Beach, Ballito on Wednesday. Organisers and competitors were greeted with clean but small 0.5 – 1 metre (2-3ft) waves for Day 2 of the World Surf League (WSL) Qualifying Series (QS) 10,000 rated event.
Former two-time event winner (2010 and 2017) and local favourite Jordy Smith (Durban), who is currently fourth on the World Tour rankings, was happy to get the win in his first heat against Luel Felipe (BRA), Ramzi Boukhaim (MOR) and Imaikalani deVault (HAW). Smith was surfing incredibly loose and fast on the small waves, and secured victory in the last few seconds, going to the air after two strong turns for a 7.77 to bring his total to 14.50.
“It’s always good to be here for this event, halfway through the year it just helps me refuel my soul and give me enough energy to go into the back half of the year,” said Smith.
It was a tough day for fellow countrymen Dylan Lightfoot (Jeffrey’s Bay) and Jake Elkington (Kommetjie), both failing to progress through to the next round. Two more South Africans, David van Zyl (Durban) and Matthew McGillivray (Jeffreys Bay), are yet to surf their first heats in the event.
Adriano de Souza (BRA), the 2015 WSL World Champion, is back from a serious knee injury that kept him out of the water for eight months. Making use of the QS as a warm-up before next week’s Corona Open J-Bay Championship Tour (CT) event, De Souza was up in the second heat of the day against Kei Kobayashi (JPN), Keanu Asing (HAW) and Stuart Kennedy (AUS).
It was all about who could do the most in the slow and small conditions. Kennedy and Kobayashi opted for the aerial approach but couldn’t complete the risky manoeuvres for valid scores while De Souza and Asing stuck to a power surfing strategy, staying compressed and linking up some critical turns. The Brazilian won the heat with 13.13 and Asing also advanced in second place with Kennedy and Kobayashi eliminated.
“I’ve been waiting for this for so long, it was a long eight months trying to get back,” said De Souza. “I put everything I can in those months to get ready and fit. I’m so hungry to make heats and come back strong next year. This is a great event for me to make some points because I’m fighting for two divisions this year, on the QS and CT.”
Brazilian Caio Ibelli, who’s been surfing on the World Tour as replacement for De Souza, lit up Willard Beach in his heat against Liam O’Brien (AUS) and Hawaiians Barron Mamiya and Kiron Jabour. With an incredible 38 waves ridden in the 30 minutes, Mamiya and Ibelli advanced in first and second respectively, with O’Brien and Jabour are out of the event.
“The waves aren’t as good as yesterday and there are more opportunities in some heats than others, but it’s still a beautiful day,” said Ibelli, who was happy to see fellow countryman De Souza back on his feet.
“He (De Souza) came down to Brazil for the CT event and making that first heat after injury, I know how hard that is as I struggled with that for a long time. So I’m super stoked to see him in-form and winning heats again.”