Brazilian Yago Dora flew to a near-perfect heat total of 19.17 out of 20 on Day 4 of the Ballito Pro pres. by Billabong by using his uncanny ability to stay attached to his surfboard while flying high above the waves and earning huge scores from the judges.
A stiff SW crosswind and consistent 1.0 to 1.3 metre waves provided ideal ramps for the competitors still in contention in the first World Surf League (WSL) Qualifying Series (QS) 10,000 rated event of the season to launch their progressive aerial manoeuvres. By the end of the day only 20 surfers remained in the draw
Willard Beach produces predominantly right-breaking waves and Dora and the other goofy-footers, who ride with their right foot in front and face the wave when riding left-breaking waves, took full advantage of the unusual conditions to unleash their aerial repertoires.
The 22-year-old Championship Tour (CT) rookie stayed really busy throughout his four-man Round Three heat, catching 13 waves. He was already leading his heat with a 6.50 and an 8.93, each out of 10, the latter being the one of the top five rides of the event to date.
Taking off on another left, Dora generated speed as he raced across the wave and then launched himself and his surfboard at more than a metre into the air, completed a 360 degree rotation and then landed perfectly on his feet to roars of amazement from the knowledgeable crowd of spectators who braved the first chilly day of the event.
Encouraged by earning a near-perfect 9.77 (one of the judges on the 5-man panel did award a perfect 10), Dora tried the same manoeuvre on his next wave, but he fell and earned only one point.
That didn’t deter him and he upped the requirement for his opponents on the next ride when he again successfully completed a high-risk aerial and received 9.07 to take his two-wave heat tally over the 19 points out of 20 threshold that signifies an exceptional performance.
“That was a good heat for me, everything worked out,” was Dora’s understated comment on the performance that had everyone on the beach buzzing. “That was my strategy going into it, I knew everyone else would be going for big turns on the right, so I watched the left all morning and just wanted to take to the air.”
The was also a late twist in result of that heat when Seth Moniz from Hawaii snatched the advancing runner-up spot from Leonardo Fioravanti of Italy who had looked he had second place behind Dora sewn up. But Moniz turned the tables in then dying minutes when, needing a 7.40 to stay in the event, he too took to the air and earned a 7.60 that dropped the Italian to third place and out of the Ballito Pro.
Local fans were sad to see Matt McGillivray bow out in Round Three. The only South Africa to reach the last 48 started well but was eventually overtaken by his three international rivals. Another goofy-footed Brazilian aerialist in Krystian Kymerson racked up a 7.13 and an 8.33 on the lefts for the heat win and a spot in the Round of 24 along with runner-up, veteran CT member Jeremy Flores of France.
“I came into the event as a wildcard and I’m grateful for the opportunity to earn some points so I can build up my seeding for the second half of the year,’ said McGillivray. “Getting to Round Three has helped my points total and it’s been such a cool experience to compete with the best in the world and try to learn from them.”
The 10,000 points on offer at the Ballito Pro has a significant impact on the chances of any surfer hoping to qualify for the elite Championship Tour. The elation of progressing to the next round was palpable for the likes of perennial Qualifying Series (QS) contenders Soli Bailey and fellow Australian Jack Freestone, Brazil’s Jesse Mendes and Ricardo Christie from New Zealand.
On the other side of the equation are those fighting to keep their places among the elite Top 34 who compete on the CT, but halfway through the year are languishing well outside the top 22 who automatically re-qualify. Losses today for the likes of 2016 Ballito Pro pres. by Billabong winner Connor O’Leary (AUS), Ian Gouveia (BRA) and Keanu Asing (HAW) will have been painful, but will make them even more determined in their next events.
Just 20 heats remain before the 50th winner of the world’s longest running professional surfing contest is crowned and the contest organisers have three days in which to ensure that the rest of the event takes place in the best available conditions
Full results from the opening day, along with news, images, video clips and more will be available at www.worldsurfleague.com