The top seeds in the Ballito Pro presented by Billabong were eliminated in their opening encounters on the second day of the Golden Jubilee anniversary edition of the event at Willard Beach.
Competitors in the first World Surf League (WSL) Qualifying Series (QS) 10,000 rated event of 2018 were greeted by with clean one metre waves at dawn, but as the onshore wind freshened and the high tide created inconsistent waves, organisers called off the action after 12 heats had been completed.
The slew of upsets caused by red hot surfing from contenders hungry for the huge points and prize money on offer included the 2017 event winner and runner-up, Durbanite Jordy Smith and Willian Cardoso (BRA), who were eliminated in their respective opening encounters despite both being ranked in the Top 10 on the elite Championship Tour (CT) Jeep Leaderboard.
The two defeats could not have been more different with Smith riding 10 waves but not earning a score over 2.93 points (out of 10) and ending in a distant fourth place, needing a near-perfect 9.10 to move into second place and advance to the next round.
Cardoso gave his all in an incredible tussle that saw the scores from first to fourth place separated by less than a point The Brazilian event top seed finished in third place, just 0.43 of a point behind the runner-up, Charley Martin (FRA).
Deivid Silva (BRA) took full advantage of the pumping early morning conditions to put on a backhand clinic as he posted the highest heat tally of the day. The 23-year-old current QS No. 2 stumbled on his first two waves but then went through a purple patch where he produced back-to-back scores of 7.83, 6.17. 8.83 and 8.17 for a two-wave total of 17.04.
Even a heat-high 8.93 from Hawaiian Imaikalani deVault was only enough for second place as he and Silva advanced to the last 48 while eliminating Stuart Kennedy (AUS) and veteran campaigner Heitor Alves (BRA).
The partisan local fans were disappointed when David van Zyl was narrowly eliminated after starting his heat with two solid six-point rides. The Durbanite has had a confidence boosting start to the year with three top finishes and a victory in a QS 1,500 to date, but former US Open of Surfing winner Hiroto Ohhara (JPN ) and Jack Robinson (AUS) overtook the South African late in today’s heat and he had to settle for third place and is out of this event.
The fans did get to celebrate later when Matt McGillivray became the first South African to reach the last 48 in this year’s Ballito Pro. The Jeffreys Bay standout has remained in the top 10 in the QS rankings since winning the opening event of the year in Israel and was elated to progress at Ballito.
“I wanted to be busy out there, catch a lot of waves and build my scores, but what happened was the incoming tide slowed the waves down and there were not very many opportunities,” McGillivray explained.
“I kept going for aerial manoeuvres and I wasn’t completing them. I was thinking that this wind was perfect for airs and I was hoping to get some big scores with them, but unfortunately I had a bit of a shocker. It ended up being a really low scoring heat and I somehow managed to scrape through so I’m just really grateful that I’ll get another opportunity to surf again and hopefully I’ll put a better heat together.”
Experienced CT member Jeremy Flores (FRA) came back late in his heat to snatch an impressive win over Hawaiian standout Barron Mamiya and Brazilian Marco Fernandez, both of whom posted eight point scores for aerial manoeuvres completed early in the heat.
Flores stayed patient however and exercised priority at a crucial time to stoke into one of the best set waves of the heat. He proceeded to put together a scintillating display of power carves and sharp top-turns in his distinctive style
“I love it here. Conditions were a bit tricky and bumpy but I’m happy to get the win. Every heat is so hard, so I’m happy to move on,” said Flores.
Four heats of Round Two remain and organisers will meet at first light on Wednesday morning to make a decision on whether to complete the round, or to start the QS 1,000 Ballito Women’s Pro pres. by Billabong.
Full results from the opening day, along with news, images, video clips and more will be available at www.worldsurfleague.com