The inaugural Nelson Mandela Bay Surf Pro presented by Billabong wrapped up three days of high performance surfing action on Sunday with Michael February (Kommetjie) and Crystal Hulett (St Francis Bay) taking out the Men's and Women's QS1,000 titles respectively while Jake Elkington (Kommetjie) and Kayla Nogueira (uMhlanga) clinched the JQS1,000 Men's and Women's crowns.
The first World Surf League (WSL) Qualifying Series (QS) events to be staged in Port Elizabeth enjoyed contestable but testing surf and great weather for the three days and featured 128 competitors, including South Africa's top exponents and entrants from the USA and Australia.
February demonstrated why he is country's highest ranked QS surfer by dominating throughout the Men's event, including the final. Surfing with unparalleled speed, power and flow, the 23 year-old Capetonian effortlessly connected long rides all the way to the beach, cruising over flat sections and performing powerful manoeuvres whenever the opportunity presented itself.
Fellow QS campaigner Dylan Lightfoot (Jeffreys Bay) kept pace for the first half of the 25 minute final, but an excellent 8.67 by February late in the heat left Lightfoot, third placed Jarred Veldhuis (Kommetjie) and fourth placed Beyrick De Vries, the 2016 WSL Africa champion, all requiring 16.01 points for victory.
"Super happy with that result. I haven't won an event for a couple of years and that's my first QS1,000 event title," said February. "The final was tricky, the waves were really far out and you couldn't hear what the situation was, but after I'd had two decent rides I stayed close to Dylan (Lightfoot) and Jarred (Veldhuis) and used my priority to keep them off the good ones.
"It's good to be home, pick up the maximum points available and move up the rankings. I'm feeling positive and motivated for the rest of the events here and to wearing the rankings leader's jersey next week."
February pocketed the 1,000 coveted rankings points sees him vault from 91st into the top 40 on the QS leaderboard. And he takes the early lead in the race for the WSL Africa title which means he will wear the Skullcandy zebra striped ranking leader's vest at the next event on the five stop City Surf Series in East London next weekend.
Hulett, scraped into the women's final after losing half of one of her scores when she incurred an interference penalty in her semifinal match-up. But the youngest competitor in the last four went on to defeat her more experienced rivals, posting the highest score of the encounter, a 7.67 out of 10, before adding a mid-range 4.27 to clinch her first WSL QS event title.
"That's my first big win and it's a kind of weird feeling," said Hulett. "To compete against my idols and people I look up to like Faye Zoetmulder and to match them is amazing. I've done the hardest training ever and this win has given me so much confidence. I'm really pleased about the amount of local support for women's surfing - it's wonderful!"
The Junior Men's final was dominated by the Elkington brothers from Kommetjie, with younger brother Max Elkington leading until the last minute when older sibling Jake rode the highest scoring wave of the 25 minute clash to grab victory.
"I got that 7.23 in the last 30 seconds and I was really stoked to overtake Max and get my first WSL Junior title,' said Jake. ‘It gives me the early lead in the WSL Africa junior rankings and will hopefully help me to secure a place in the squad for the WSL World Junior Championships in Australia in January. This win has really given me confidence and I'm looking forward to East London next weekend.
Nogueira has been on roll for the past three weeks with the 13 year-old Durbanite surfing to victories winning both the U14 and U16 girls' titles on successive weekends before capturing the18-and-under title today. She stuck to her strategy and made sure that she caught waves that gave her the opportunity to score a pair of five point rides.
"My first JQS win felt really good and hopefully I'll be able to do it again," said Nogueira. "I don't feel intimidated by the older girls, I've surfed against them a couple of times before, but this a real boost to my confidence and it feels really great."
The winners were presented with their trophies and cheques by Athol Trollip, the Mayor of the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, who also presented special commemorative trophies to the 2016 WSL Africa champions Beyrick de Vries (uMhlanga), Faye Zoetmulder (Cape St Francis), Adin Masencamp (Strand) and Sophie Bell (Salt Rock).
The Nelson Mandela Bay Surf Pro presented by Billabong is supported by Volkswagen, Corona, the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, Yesman, Tsogo Sun, Skullcandy, El Jimador and Accelerate Sport.