The first two rounds of the women's Corona Open J-Bay - Women's ran Friday afternoon in solid 4-6 foot conditions. It was the first time that the women's WSL Championship Tour had run an event at J-Bay in 18 years, making for a sense of history and occasion as the first heats got underway. And while some bystanders were skeptical that the devil winds would pick up, Jeffreys Bay delivered and the swell stayed consistent throughout the morning.
It was no surprise then, when goofyfooters Tatiana Weston-Webb, Bianca Buitendag, Caroline Marks and Bronte Macaulay all crushed their Round 1 heats. All of them will be moving directly to Round 3 -- bypassing the dreaded Round 2 elimination heats.
Buitendag, who is surfing here as a wildcard, lives just a three-hour drive up the road, so her knowledge of J-Bay goes unmatched. Buitendag almost gave up her spot due to a back injury but, fortunately, decided to push through. The 24-year-old was in a challenging position this morning, going up against current Jeep Leader Lakey Peterson and Tour vet Malia Manuel in Round 1. Still, Buitendag was unfazed. Her wave selection was on point, allowing her to find a rhythm that the others didn't. With her hometown crowd's support, the wildcard landed an 8.87 on her final wave -- one of the higher scores of the day -- to take the win. She'll be going up against Carissa Moore and Johanne Defay in Round 3.
"It's hard for us to believe that we're actually here," said Buitendag. "It's 4-6 foot and running all the way down so it's a bit surreal. I'm trying not to let my back get to me but every time I do a bottom turn it locks up. But I wanted to come to this event. I feel being a wildcard, it's the best way to enter. I was on the Tour for six years and you carry this pressure with you all the time. It feels like a knot in your chest. As a wildcard you're completely free of that. You can surf without anything at risk."
Weston-Webb, meanwhile, has been in top form all season. The Brasilian surfer from Kauai is currently sitting at No. 3 on the Jeep Leaderboard and her confidence was visible as she walked down the long stretch of beach. Despite the power ripping through the water this afternoon, Weston-Webb attacked with authority on every wave that came her way.
"She has this attitude in the water that's like, she deserves every wave that comes to her even in the freesurfs," said WSL commentator Strider Wasilewski.
"I'm in a good place right now," she said. "I'm bringing good vibes everywhere I go. I'm happy regardless of the results and I have a solid crew behind me. This is my first time to J-Bay but there's a spot in Hawaii that's similar, so I'm hoping to still bring knowledge."
Weston-Webb earned a high score of 8.50 to take the lead over Courtney Conlogue and Keely Andrew. But neither opponents made it easy on her. Courtney Conlogue had a go-for-broke mentality, showing a complete disregard for the shallow rocks that line the shore. Coming back from a recent injury, most would expect Conlogue to take it easy on the inside section...but instead she went at it the hardest. When it comes to putting points on the board, it's safe to say that she'll stop at nothing. Still, it was Weston-Webb, on her backhand, who came out on top.
Rookie Caroline Marks also brought a tangible energy to the beach this morning. The goofyfooter is more than a little excited to be surfing at J-Bay and her enthusiasm shined through in Round 1. Marks was up against an extremely difficult draw, with both Carissa Moore and Coco Ho in her heat. But the rookie's smooth backhand approach was deemed superior, and she solidified her heat win after two 7-point rides. With consistent results like that, it's almost hard to believe that she's just 16.
Bronte Macaulay's backhand, meanwhile, got the edge over Brasilian Silvana Lima and South African Nicole Pallet. The surfer from Western Australia is no stranger to heavier waves. Macaulay grew up a short drive from Margaret River, giving her the confidence to shine here in South Africa. Lima, meanwhile, was forced to withdraw from Round 2 due to injury.
In Round 3, Macaulay will face Marks and Weston-Webb, in a battle of the goofies.
Check back tomorrow for the call and Round 4 action at 7:45 am. SAST.