Willard Beach in KwaDukuza delivered a picture perfect day of world-class surfing in warm, windless midwinter sunshine and excellent 1.0 to 1.3 metre waves to kick off the historic 50th anniversary edition of the Ballito Pro presented Billabong, the world’s longest running professional surfing event.

The first World Surf League (WSL) Qualifying Series (QS) 10,000 rated event of 2018 features an outstanding field of 112 of the world’s best surfers and the day was filled with spectacular performances and heart-breaking upsets.

Oney Anwar kept the Indonesian flag flying in Ballito, following his compatriot Rio Waida’s victory in the Junior Qualifying Series (JQS) event on Sunday with an impressive display of wave selection and radical manoeuvring that earned both the highest single ride score of 8.83 out of 10, and heat total of 16.76 out of 20.

“I just kept it simple, paddling out and sitting on the right . I made a few mistakes at the start, but I kept fighting for the one I was waiting for and then it came and I got that 8.83,” said Anwar of his heat strategy.

“I came last year with a really badly injured foot, and I never usually like a place when I’m injured, but I stayed until the contest finished and I loved it! This year I’m not injured and I’m enjoying it even more! But this is only the first round and I want to keep the good vibe rolling and keep enjoying my life.”

The eight Round One heats saw just two of the top seeds earn heat wins with powerhouse Australian Jackson Baker continuing the momentum he picked up from his victory in the QS 3,000 event in Port Elizabeth last Saturday to win his matchup.

And Brazilian prodigy Mateus Herdy used all of his aerial prowess to snatch victory over South African Adin Masencamp (Strand) as the pair of teenagers eliminated Timothee Bisso (FRA) and former Championship Tour (CT) member Raoni Monteiro (BRA).

The other two South African wildcards in the opening round were both ousted with Jordy Maree narrowly failing to advance when he finished third in his heat and Jake Elkington ended fourth in the first heat of the day.

The start of Round Two saw the level of competition step up to new heights with most of the heats closely contested as the competitors ripped the waves to shreds in the pristine conditions.

Rookie CT sensation Griffin Colapinto (USA) sneaked through his opening encounter by the narrowest of margins, finishing well behind winner Kalani Ball (AUS) and then hanging onto second place just three-hundredths of a point ahead of Kiron Jabour (HAW).

Tanner Hendrickson (HAW) won an exceptionally hard fought cosmopolitan clash where current QS rankings leader and 2015 Ballito Pro champion Alejo Muniz (BRA) finished fourth while former CT member Mitch Crews was pipped for second place by fellow Australian Mikey Wright, who reached the semi-finals at Ballito last year and has moved into the top 10 on the CT after stating 2018 as a wildcard.

While acknowledging that the first QS 10,000 of the year is an important event on the schedule, the Hawaiian took the victory in his stride and was just happy to be in Ballito.

“I’m not the most strategic surfer, I just want to ride a lot of waves because if I get too patient, wait too long, that’s not the surfer I am,” said Hendrickson. “So it’s all about riding a bunch of waves, the other guys don’t factor into my plans. The Ballito Pro is a big event on my schedule, it’s the first 10,000 of the year, and I’m fortunate to just keep going as a surfer. I don’t have that sponsor backing, so I’m just happy to be here.”

Umhlanga local Beyrick de Vries had the partisan hometown supporters hooting and was holding onto an advancing second place in his heat until Jacob Wilcox (AUS) found the best wave of the heat in the dying moments of the 30 minute clash and got the score he needed to earn a spot in Round Three

Soli Bailey (AUS) implemented his gameplan perfectly to ensure he progressed to the last 48 in the Ballito Pro, reading the conditions astutely and acting accordingly.

“Approaching the heat there were a few factors coming into play, it was high tide and it was always going to be quite a slow heat, so it was going to come down to a couple of good waves,” said Bailey. “I had 30 minutes, which is a long time if you can be patient, and I really wanted to consolidate with a good wave at the start and then back it up as quickly as possible.”

“I was pretty lucky I got that lefthander that gave me a good score and that was my gameplan – just to make sure I put myself a decent wave to start the heat with, to set me up for the heat – and then I built on that and it worked out. The first big event of the year is always cutthroat, it means everything in qualification process, so it was a pretty nervous heat for me. I’ve had a couple of tough heats and some bad losses, so I just wanted to get one under my belt and it will be good to keep going.”

The penultimate heat of the day saw the return of 2017 semi-finalist Mikey February (ZAF), who is now a full time member of the elite CT. Despite holding his own through most of the heat, the Capetonian was overtaken in the dying moments, much to disappointment of his legions of fans.

Organisers completed all eight heats in Round One and eight of 24 heats in Round Two on the opening day of the event. They will meet at first light and make a decision soon after 7am on when to get the action started, and when to get the QS1,000 rated Ballito Women’s Pro pres. by Billabong underway.