- WSL / Kelly Cestari
- WSL / Kelly Cestari

The Ballito Pro pres. by Billabong, the world's longest running professional surfing event, has attracted a stellar field of the world's top surfers for its 49th anniversary at Willard Beach in Ballito from 3 to 9 July.

Conner O'Leary is the WINNER of the 2016 Ballito Pro presented by Billabong. 2017 CT rookies Conner O'Leary and Joan Duru both made their Championship Tour dreams reality thanks to big results in Ballito last year. - WSL / Kelly Cestari

Entries for the first QS10,000 rated event of the year closed last week with exactly half of the world's elite Top 34 ranked surfers on the Championship Tour (CT) booking their places. The 112 man field also features 29 of the top 32 on the QS rankings including current runaway rankings leader Jesse Mendes and all of the top 12.

The CT contingent is led by Durban's Jordy Smith, who won in Ballito in 2010 and is challenging strongly for the world title following his victory at Bells Beach at Easter. Other CT stars include Frenchmen Jeremy Flores and Joan Duru, Brazilians Italo Ferreira, Wiggolly Dantas and Miguel Pupo , Ezekiel Lau, Kanoa Igarashi and Leonardo Fioravanti.

Jordy Smith placed second in Heat 4 of the Round of 24 in Ballito Pro Presented by Billabong QS10000. Jordy Smith loves competing at home in front of his South African family and friends. - WSL / Kelly Cestari

The form surfer is Connor O'Leary, last year's Ballito Pro pres. by Billabong winner, who showed that prowess with a runner-up in the Outerknown Fiji Pro. The result helped him break into the CT's Top 10 on the Jeep leaderboard for the first time and take the lead in the coveted 2017 CT rookie of the year race.

Former Ballito champions in the 49th edition also include brothers, Patrick Gudauskas & Tanner Gudauskas -- along with Alejo Muniz of the Muniz brothers.

Conner O'Leary WINNING the final of the Ballito Pro Presented by Billabong QS10000. Conner O'Leary's lethal backhand earned him the win in 2016. - WSL / Kelly Cestari

Michael February and Beyrick De Vries are the only two South Africans to qualify for the main event through their rankings. Matthew McGillivray and David Van Zyl will receive the WSL Africa wildcards as the highest ranked South Africans in the current QS standings not to qualify among the top 112.

"This is the strongest field for the Ballito Pro presented by Billabong that I've seen since it moved to Ballito in 2009," said WSL Africa Operations Manager Colin Fitch. "There has been huge anticipation for this year's event and a really positive build up with other WSL events being held all over the coastline."

The Ballito Pro pres. by Billabong runs from Monday to Sunday, July 3-9 and offer a prize-purse of US $260,000 (about R3.35 million) of which R500,000, and a massive 10,000 priceless ranking points, go to the winner.

Ezekiel Lau winning Heat 5 of the Round of 16 and advancing to the Quarter Finals of The Ballito Pro Presented by Billabong QS10000. Ezekiel Lau's strong 3rd place finish in 2016 paved the way for his eventual qualification to the Championship Tour. - WSL / Kelly Cestari

The Ballito Pro pres. by Billabong is the highlight event in the Ballito Pro Surf Festival, a 14-day celebration of beach culture that includes Billabong Junior Series pres. by All Aboard Travel from June 27-29 followed by the Surfing South Africa Trials pres. by Billabong on June 30 and the Ballito Pro Women pres. by Billabong on 1 and 2 July.

Alongside the surfing, visitors will be spoiled for choice with non-stop activities providing even more entertainment throughout the Ballito festival site. South Africa's hottest musical acts appealing to all tastes - rock, pop, hip hop, kwaito, electro and dance - will be performing live on Salt Rock Beach over the last weekend. Beach and extreme sports, culinary contests as well as quality retail and food stalls will captivate visitors to this coastal holiday highlight.

The Ballito Pro pres. by Billabong is proudly supported by the KwaDukuza Municipality, Billabong, 5FM, Monster Energy, Zigzag Surfing Magazine, World Surf League (WSL) and Surfing South Africa (SSA).

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