A rising swell that produced solid overhead waves, allied with variable winds, tested the ability of the top contenders in the Ballito Pro presented by Billabong as they progressed to the last 24 at Willard Beach on Thursday.

Pristine early morning offshore conditions enabled the world’s best pulling into the deep tubes that the KwaDukuza region is famous for and, as the onshore wind freshened, they used that to stick huge aerial manoeuvres when they boosted above the lip of the waves.

The remaining eight heats of the Round of 96 saw the likes of Jack Freestone and fellow Australians Davey Cathels and Connor O’Leary, South Africa’s Matthew McGillivray (Jeffreys Bay) and Brazilian Luel Felipe rack up high scoring heat wins.

O’Leary was particularly impressive, posting rides of 9.47 and 9.0 for a heat total of 18.47, the highest of the day, and leaving all three of his opponents in a combination situation where they needed to improve on both their scores for the heat victory.

The Round of 48 brought additional pressure as the level of competition increased. The first three heats were dominated by Brazilians with Deivid Silva, Michael Rodrigues and Krystian Kymerson all using their air game to good effect.

South Africa’s Beyrick de Vries, who has grown up in the region, used his local knowledge to take flight. Landing a huge alley-oop and then an air-reverse that the judges rewarded with scores of 8.17 and 6.67, de Vries cruised into the last 24.

“It was a slow start for me but I found a good air section and I went for broke and got an 8.17. That put the Q20 on the wheels and it started flowing from there,” said de Vries. “I just focus on the now and try to get the waves and adapt to the different conditions. I’m pleased with what I’ve done now, but I just can’t wait to get out there tomorrow.”

After a really close heat where Ryan Callinan squeaked to victory after all four surfers were within 1.5 points of each other at the final siren, top seed Jordy Smith took to the surf and showed his class. The current WSL No. 10 ranked surfer toyed with the conditions, landing aerials and carving powerful turns on his way to the heat win

“I’m stoked that myself and Beyrick made it through, so that’s pretty cool for South Africa, hopefully we can keep it going,” said Smith. “The conditions are really tricky and you’ve got to take every heat as it comes. You go out there with an open mind and can’t sit for too long and wait for good waves as there’s a lot of opportunity.”

Hawaiian Ezekiel Lau was pleased to advance by scoring a massive 9.10 on his final wave after a slow start.

“I’m pretty stoked. Coming a long way from Hawaii, you just want to make as many heats as you can,” said Lau. “You have to select the right waves and I started off a little slow but I found my rhythm through the heat. It’s just me and mother nature and I just try to focus on my game plan and what the waves are doing.”

Jack Freestone (AUS) was another who posted a last minute, heat winning ride, jumping from third to first place in his encounter thanks to an impressive aerial that he landed in the flat water, but managed to ride out successfully.

“It was little bit nerve-wrecking. Everyone had really good scores up until the last five minutes and I didn’t have anything. I basically surfed a five minute heat,” said Freestone. “It’s always good to get through those first two rounds. So I’m really excited to get through that one and to be in the round of 24. I just want to keep the momentum flowing.”

Organisers will meet will meet at 7am local time on Friday and hope to make a call for a start at 7.15. When competition resumes, the first heat in the water will see Matt Banting (AUS), Connor O’Leary (AUS), Dusty Payne (HAW) and Mateia Hiquily face off in Heat 11 of the Round of 48.

Highlights from today’s action will be found at www.worldsurfleague.com

Ballito Pro presented by Billabong Round 3 Results
Heat1. Deivid Silva (BRA) 15.37, David do Carmo (BRA) 14.50, Charles Martin (GLP) 7.67, Jesse Mendes (BRA) 7.57
Heat2. Michael Rodrigues (BRA) 14.44, Messias Felix (BRA) 11.57, Ian Crane (USA) 11.53, Tim Reyes (USA) 8.30
Heat3. Krystian Kymerson (BRA) 17.77, Jeremy Flores (FRA) 13.73, Hiroto Ohhara (JPN) 12.30, Soli Bailey (AUS) 4.66
Heat4. Beyrick De Vries (ZAF) 14.84, Kai Hing (AUS) 12.40, Michael Dunphy (USA) 12.00, Dion Atkinson (AUS) 10.90
Heat5. Ryan Callinan (AUS) 15.46, Cooper Chapman (AUS) 15.36, Thomas Woods (AUS) 14.73, Billy Stairmand (NZL) 13.17
Heat6. Jordy Smith (ZAF) 11.97, Joan Duru (FRA) 10.94, Tomas Hermes (BRA) 10.17, Noah Schweizer (USA) 7.00
Heat7. Patrick Gudauskas (USA) 13.46, Nathan Hedge (AUS) 11.60, Hizunome Bettero (BRA) 10.27, Aritz Aranburu (ESP) 8.97
Heat8. Ezekiel Lau (HAW) 16.10, Bino Lopes (BRA) 13.60, Alex Ribeiro (BRA) 9.80, Joshua Moniz (HAW) 8.26
Heat9. Jack Freestone (AUS) 15.17, Stu Kennedy (AUS) 12.87, Yadin Nicol (AUS) 12.17, Matthew McGillivray (ZAF) 9.93
Heat10. Davey Cathels (AUS) 15.36, Ethan Ewing (AUS) 15.30, Ramzi Boukhiam (MAR) 15.00, Ricardo Christie (NZL) 10.60

Ballito Pro presented by Billabong Round 2 Results
Heat17. Jack Freestone (AUS) 12.34, Ramzi Boukhiam (MAR) 12.33, Marc Lacomare (FRA) 8.66, Rafael Teixeira (BRA) 6.20
Heat18. Matthew McGillivray (ZAF) 14.83, Ricardo Christie (NZL) 11.94, Evan Geiselman (USA) 9.23, Michael February (ZAF) 4.00
Heat19. Ethan Ewing (AUS) 14.67, Stu Kennedy (AUS) 13.76, Tanner Hendrickson (HAW) 11.57, Nomme Mignot (FRA) 10.30
Heat20. Davey Cathels (AUS) 16.77, Yadin Nicol (AUS) 10.87, Tomas Fernandes (PRT) 9.07, Noe Mar McGonagle (CRI) 8.40
Heat21. Matt Banting (AUS) 14.07, Maxime Huscenot (FRA) 13.97, Griffin Colapinto (USA) 12.70, Heitor Alves (BRA) 7.13
Heat22. Connor O’Leary (AUS) 18.47, Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) 16.13, Gony Zubizarreta (ESP) 9.83, Willian Cardoso (BRA) 8.84
Heat23. Luel Felipe (BRA) 16.33, Dusty Payne (HAW) 13.33, Granger Larsen (HAW) 12.30, Nathan Yeomans (USA) 8.50
Heat24. Frederico Morais(PRT) 11.93, Mateia Hiquily (PYF) 10.16, Marlon Lipke (PRT) 10.00, Jose Ferreira (PRT) 9.90

While the surfers ride the waves, the Ballito Pro Festival is set to turn up the heat in KwaDukuza by offering the best in beach, music and sports entertainment. Locals and holiday-makers will be spoilt for choice with the week-long festival featuring the ‘Fire up your stoke: Night of food & wine’, an extreme sports programme and an exciting retail area, while the Five Star Ballito Pro Free Music Concerts powered by 5FM bring some of South Africa’s most talented music acts to the stage in Salt Rock.