Connor O’Leary (AUS) won the Ballito Pro presented Billabong in epic 1m – 1.5 waves at Willard Beach in KwaDukuza today, defeating Joan Duru (FRA) in the final held in front of a packed beach basking in warm mid-winter sunshine and windless conditions.

In a high scoring final where the lead constantly changed hands, both surfers posted excellent rides on their backhand in the long right-handers before O’Leary etched his name on the winner’s trophy with an explosive ride punctuated by three vertical re-entries for a 9.20 and a 17.30 vs. 15.80 victory.

“It’s surreal. I feel like it hasn’t actually happened and it hasn’t hit me yet. I’m just over the moon,” said O’Leary. “It’s one of my best results so far. To make the final I was beyond stoked and to take the win just tops it off. Joan’s surfing has been amazing recently and he’s one of my favorite surfers on the QS, so to have a final with him was amazing.”

Victory in the first World Surf League (WSL) QS 10,000 rated event of the year earned O’Leary US $40 000 (about R600 000) and his haul of 10 000 points saw the 22 year-old move up 13 places to No. 2 in the rankings.

Duru, ranked No. 8 on the QS coming into the Ballito Pro, franked that form by racking up several of the highest single ride and heat scores during the event.

“That final was close and it was the guy that got the best wavs that was going to win. I got one good one and then I lost priority,’ said Duru. “It’s one of best results in my career so far. Every year I get good results but never as good as this one, so I’m really happy with second place. You surf against some of the best guys in the world, so if you lose one heat it’s okay.”

The Frenchman used his lethal backhand to eliminate local favourite Beyrick de Vries (ZAF) in the quarters and his runner-up finish elevated him to No. 3 on the QS rankings.

Ezekiel Lau (HAW) finished equal third in the Ballito Pro after an outstanding run that saw him oust elite Championship Tour (CT) competitors Stu Kennedy and Jack Freestone, both from Australia, before losing to O’Leary in their semi-final clash.

“For sure it’s my best result on the road and the furthest I’ve been I a QS 10 000, so I’m happy with the result,” said Lau. “I’m disappointed because I wanted to make the final really badly but that’s just how it goes. Connor has been surfing well, with some of the highest scores of the event, and I decided to go for the airs, but I came unstuck.”

Jeremy Flores (FRA), in his tenth year at the highest echelons of competition surfing, narrowly lost out in a see-saw, high scoring semi-final duel with compatriot Duru. Flores delivered two excellent scores of 8.93 and 8.70, but ultimately could not match Duru’s 9.30 and near-perfect 9.90 (the highest single ride score of the event), and had to settle for equal third place.

“Before coming here, if someone had told me that I would be in the semi-finals I would have taken it. It’s definitely a good result and hopefully I keep building from now on,’ said Flores. “I haven’t had any of the results that I wanted in the CT and now I have to back it up with some QS, which is definitely not easy at all because the QS is so hard. This semi-final result is definitely a keeper for me and a good confidence boost.”

The 6 500 points Flores collected for third place in his first QS event of the year resulted in him leapfrogging straight into 14th place on the rankings, underlining the value the Ballito Pro provides on the world stage.

Beyrick de Vries (ZAF) produced the best performance by a South African and his fifth place finish saw his ranking jump from 98th to 12th, moving him into contention to qualify for the 2017 Samsung Galaxy WSL Championship Tour. The uMhlanga local also collected an additional R50 000 by winning both the Monster Energy ‘Wave of the Week’ video award and the Zigzag Expression Session to cap one of the best weeks of his career.

“It’s just been an awesome week, one of the best weeks in a long time, maybe in my life,” said de Vries. “It’s just a crazy transition of emotions and the beach support was amazing. I feel like my best work is done when I’m having fun and I wanted to take a break from professional surfing and focusing on being a surfer again. And now this happens.”

Highlights from the Ballito Pro presented by Billabong can be found at www.worldsurfleague.com

Ballito Pro presented by Billabong Final Results
1. Connor O’Leary (AUS) 17.30
2. Joan Duru (FRA) 15.80

Ballito Pro presented by Billabong Semi-Final Results
Semi1. Joan Duru (FRA) 19.20 def. Jeremy Flores (FRA) 17.63
Semi2. Connor O’Leary (AUS) 16.74 def. Ezekiel Lau (AUS) 14.60

Ballito Pro presented by Billabong Quarter-Final Results
Quarter1. Jeremy Flores (FRA) 15.24 def. Krystian Kymerson (BRA) 13.17
Quarter2. Joan Duru (FRA) 18.67 def. Beyrick De Vries (ZAF) 16.34
Quarter3. Ezekiel Lau (HAW) 15.83 def. Jack Freestone (AUS) 15.57
Quarter4. Connor O’Leary (AUS) 15.50 def. Ethan Ewing (AUS) 14.56

WSL Qualifying Series Rankings (After Ballito Pro)
1 Fioravanti,Leonardo ITA 17530
2 O’Leary,Connor AUS 14700
3 Duru,Joan FRA 13040
4 Silva,Deivid BRA 11530
5 Lau,Ezekiel HAW 10120

South Africans (Top 100)
12 De Vries,Beyrick ZAF 7130
48 Smith,Jordy ZAF 3700
53 February,Michael ZAF 3610
57 McGillivray,Matthew ZAF 3395
96 Lightfoot,Dylan ZAF 2345

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