Alex Ribeiro was crowned men's Champion at the Volkswagen SA Open of Surfing pres. by Hurley in Durban on Sunday, leading a near clean sweep of the top eight positions by South American surfers on the final day of the QS3,000-rated event.
Ribeiro, 28, defeated fellow Brazilian and good friend Hizunome Bettero in an action-packed Final that ran in one-meter waves and onshore winds that provided the surfers with ideal conditions to boost multiple spectacular aerial maneuvers.
"Last night I didn't get any sleep, because I was just thinking of this comp, I was so excited to compete," said Ribeiro, after being chaired from the water's edge to the awards area by an ecstatic group of his Brazilian Storm peers. "I'm stoked to win here and share the Final with my friend Hizunome."
Ribeiro, who spent 2016 on the WSL Championship Tour (CT), is determined to re-qualify for the elite Championship Tour, which is comprised of the world's top 32-ranked surfers annually.
"The points are great here. Now I will be focusing on the super-important Ballito and Japan events and hopefully get a win there also," he commented.
Today's Final saw both surfers remain extremely busy throughout the 25-minute encounter with Ribeiro's top two scores of an excellent 8.67 and a 7.00 and heat tally of 15.67 proving too good for Bettero, who totalled 11.57.
"It's great to start the first competition in South Africa like this. Now I have a lot of time to visit some other places in SA and I know there are some good waves here," said Bettero. "This was a really important result for me and will give me more confidence for the next competitions like the big event coming up at Ballito. Congrats to Alex and thanks for everyone who organized this comp."
The finalists showed big-match temperaments by producing last-minute victories in their respective Semifinal encounters. Needing an excellent score to overtake compatriot Victor Bernardo's powerful performance, Ribeiro attempted a high-risk aerial maneuver and completed it for an 8.87 and the heat win.
"I'm really happy actually. I know I should probably be sad after losing that heat, but I'm really happy because it's my best result of the year so far," said Bernardo. "Getting third in a QS3000 is really good for me. In the beginning of the year I had a really bad injury, I tore my meniscus ligaments in my knee so this is a great comeback for me."
Bettero produced an even more dramatic comeback to earn his spot in the finale. With 90 seconds remaining and requiring an excellent 8.57 to overtake Miguel Tudela, the Brazilian delivered an excellent 8.0 and, while paddling out, caught another wave that he was still riding when the siren sounded.
After a brief wait for the judges' decision, the beach erupted when it dropped in as a 6.80 and Bettero advanced to the final
"It was a nice heat, I was leading and thought maybe Hizunome was going to fall short on his wave and I let that one wave go," Tudela explained. "I'm happy for him, he is a really good surfer. I'm sad I lost but still stoked on my best result for the year and now I feel more comfortable for the second half of this year."
Ribeiro will have his name engraved on the brand-new John Whitmore Cup along with junior champions Mateus Herdy and Zoe McDougall, who were crowned on Friday in the Juniors events. McDougall's name will appear twice as she also won the QS1,000 women's event on Saturday.
The trophy is named to honour the immense contribution to the development and growth of the sport in the 1950s, ‘60s and early ‘70s by the late surfing pioneer and administrator who was referred to as the doyen of South African surfing.
Whitmore's association with Volkswagen saw him own the first Kombi made in South Africa and, fittingly, the trophy was presented to Ribeiro by Whitmore's daughter Chele, alongside Nico Fourie from Volkswagen and Ockie Fourie from Hurley
The Volkswagen SA Open of Surfing is proudly supported by Hurley, Tsogo Sun, Durban Tourism, Skullcandy, El Jimador, Yesman, California Dreaming, World Surf League, Surfing South Africa and Accelerate Sport.