Nahoon Reef in East London lived up to its reputation as a challenging surf venue with overhead to double overhead waves and strong offshore winds testing the mettle of the competitors on the opening day of the Buffalo City Surf Pro presented by Reef Wetsuits on Saturday.
The first World Surf League (WSL) Qualifying Series (QS) event to be staged in the city for a decade and the second of five stops on the inaugural City Surf Series which is reinvigorating the WSL Africa region, the Buffalo City Surf Pro features QS1,000 rated contests for Men and Women and JQS rated events for Junior Men and Women aged 18-and-under.
The testing conditions prompted contest director Colin Fitch to run 25 minute heats throughout the day with the 16 heats of Men's Round 1 first four heats of Junior Men were completed
Top seed Michael February (Kommetjie, competing in the striped Skullcandy rankings leader's vest, produced a solid performance in the first heat of the day, racking up scores of 6.67 and 4.83 (both out of 10) to relegate the experienced Brandon Jackson (Durban North) to the runner-up berth as the pair advanced to Round 2.
It took Reef local and former WSL elite Championship Tour (CT) campaigner Greg Emslie (East London) to post the first excellent score of the day, an outstanding 9.10. But even with a backup score of 6.33 and a heat total of 15.33 the former World Masters Champion did not run away with the heat when David Van Zyl (Glenashley) racked up rides of 7.50 and 6.0 and was left chasing a 7,94 for the heat win.
But it was 2016 WSL Africa champion Beyrick de Vries (Umhlanga) who produced both the top single ride and heat total. Awarded a near-perfect 9.50 for a spectacular last minute ride to add to his earlier excellent 8.50, the second seed tallied a dazzling 18.0 out of 20 and demonstrated his intention to reclaim the rankings leader's striped vest he wore at the first event of the season last week.
"That 9.50 came in the last 25 seconds when I was left inside and one of those walled up ones we'd been seeing all day came through," said de Vries. "To be honest it was the wave that did the talking. I was already pretty comfortable so I went for a big first turn, pushing the tail out, and then finished with a solid close-out manoeuvre."
"I definitely want to be wearing the striped vest in Durban next week,' said De Vries of the introduction of the Skullcandy zebra striped vest worn by the rankings leader at each event. "It didn't feel any different when I wore it in the first event last week, but now I see somebody else with it on, I want it back."
Current QS No. 135 Matt McGillivray (Jeffreys Bay), Jarred Veldhuis, a finalist last week, and fellow Kommetjie resident Jordy Maree along with Adin Masencamp (Strand) were the others to produce double-digit heat tallies. Americans Austin Neumann, Jason Harris, Nate Dorman and Braden Jones also advanced to Round 2..
The four heats in the Junior Men's event saw Eli Beukes and Jake Elkington (both Kommetjie) fight a see-saw battle in the first heat with Beukes taking the win thanks to a near excellent 7.67 and a heat total of 12.34. East London local Bryce du Preez clinched the second heat while Max Elkington (Kommetjie) triumphed in his match-up and Braden Jones (USA) emerged victorious from the last encounter of the day.
Organisers will meet at Nahoon Reef early on Sunday morning and the decision on when to get the contest underway will be made at 7.30 am. The remaining four heats of Round 1 of the Junior Men will be first up, followed by Round 1 of the Women's event, Round 2 of the Men and Round 1 of the Junior Women. The champions will be crowned on Monday afternoon.
The Buffalo City Surf Pro is supported by Reef Wetsuits, Volkswagen, Corona, the Buffalo City Municipality, Yesman, Tsogo Sun, Skullcandy, El Jimador and Accelerate Sport.