South Africa's top surfers, young and old, are excited about competing in the Ballito Women's Pro presented by Billabong, the first internationally-rated women's surfing event to be staged in the country since 2009.
A World Surf League (WSL) Qualifying Series (QS) 1,000 event, the Ballito Women's Pro will be run at Willard Beach in KwaDukuza June 28 with a total prize purse of R30,000 and invaluable QS rankings points on offer.
Tanika Hoffman from Hout Bay, the highest-ranked QS surfer among the 18 women entered, has already competed in four events in China, Australia and New Zealand this year and is enthusiastic about competing in her home country.
"I love to compete locally and even though I'm not from Durban I am familiar with the waves in Ballito," Hoffman said. "It's great that all of South Africa's top best surfers have entered and the event is going to tightly contested. Hopefully the Ballito Women's Pro will be a stepping stone towards more and bigger QS events for women being run here."
Heather Clark from Port Shepstone, the most experienced competitor in the lineup, was the undisputed 'Queen of SA surfing' while competing at the highest international levels of the sport from the 1990's until the mid 2000's. She is the only entrant who participated in the last QS event held in South Africa and cannot wait to get back into a competition vest.
"I'm actually so excited to be competing again and even though many of the other girls will be half my age, surfing against younger girls makes me really up my game," Clark said. "I've been spending a lot of time in the water so my fitness levels are right up there and my goal is to finish better than the equal ninth-place result I got when the event had to be called off in 2009 because the surf was dangerously big."
Another competitor who reached the top echelons of surfing is Nikita Robb from East London, a former Championship Tour (CT) competitor who now works as a surf tour guide in the area.
"There is a good variety of surfers in the event," Robb said. "I think the local girls will have the upper hand because of their local wave knowledge so I'll be going to Ballito early to get used to the waves at the contest venue."
Locals will be cheering for Sophie Bell and Jade Mets from Salt Rock along with Teal Hogg from Umhlanga. Promising young Durban talent Samukeliswe Cele will be making her first appearance in an internationally rated event.
The format for the Ballito Women's Pro will be a four-person trials heat where the top two finishers will advance to the Quarterfinals of the main event.
The women's event will run alongside the men's 10,000-point Ballito Pro.