Sophie Bell achieved a rare double on Easter Monday when she won both the Women's and Junior Women's events at the Buffalo City Surf Pro presented by Reef Wetsuits in challenging conditions at Nahoon Reef in East London.
And the 16 year-old from Salt Rock's phenomenal feat was all the more dramatic when the Women's final was halted after spectators spotted a Thresher shark breaching less that 100 metres from the finalists. The event was immediately put on hold and Bell and fellow finalist Tayla Hanak (AUS) paddled in while a jetski collected the Men's finalists, Steven Sawyer and Michael February, who were already out in the lineup.
After following the progress shark until it was more than kilometre from the venue, officials consulted with the competitors who decided to continue with the event,
While Bell did not re-enter the surf as she was bleeding from a cut on her knee, Hanak was ferried back to the lineup but could not find the 5.65 point score she required to grab victory in the one-and-a-half minutes remaining after the restart.
"It's so crazy, I'm super, super stoked to win both events," said Bell. "It was a big surprise winning the Women's event, the more heats I got through the more shocked I was, but it feels so good to be back to winning ways."
"That shark incident was the scariest moment of my life. All the spectators were shouting and luckily I had just ridden a wave and was quite close to the rocks, so I just paddled straight in. I had a cut on my knee and didn't go out again but luckily I still won."
Earlier Bell, the 2016 WSL Africa Junior Women's champion, dominated the Junior Women's event, winning her quarterfinal, semifinal and final matchups. This saw her move into the top position on the regional rankings and she also jumped to No. 2 on the Women's ranking's after two events
February (Kommetjie), wearing the Skullcandy rankings leader's striped vest after his victory in the opening event of the season in Port Elizabeth last weekend, and Sawyer (Jeffreys Bay) fought out a see-saw battle in the unpredictable 1-15 metre waves in the QS1,000 Men's Final.
The close call went Sawyer's way by 11.44 vs.11.07 and the J-Bay surfer / muso added lustre to an outstanding last nine months in which he has claimed his first QS1,000 event crown, won the wildcard J-bay Open CT at his home break last July and a sensational runner-up finish in the World Longboard Championships in Hainan, China in December.
February convincingly outscored goofy-foot junior Joshe Faulkner (Jeffreys Bay) in their semifinal duel and retained the Man's rankings lead heading into the third event in Durban next weekend. Sawyer jumped to No. 2 and posted an equally dominating semifinal performance in defeating 16 year-old Sebastian Williams (Durban).
Koby Oberholzer (Warner Beach) claimed his first JQS1,000 event victory thanks to an awesome display of high performance surfing on a long-running wave that earned the 17 year-old a near-perfect 9.33 out of 10 from the judges.
All four finalists battled to find decent backup scores and Adin Masencamp (Strand), last WSL Africa Junior Men's champion, grabbed the runner-up berth on the strength of a 7.17 while the Elkington brothers from Kommetjie, Jake and Max, placed third and fourth.
The Junior Men's rankings lead will be up for grabs in Durban with Jake Elkington holding a slender lead over Oberholzer, with younger sibling Max, Masencamp and rising star Luke Slijpen (Hout Bay) all ready to pounce if Oberholzer slips up.
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.