Samuel Pupo and Zoe McDougall surfed to victory at the Billabong Junior Series presented by All Aboard Travel in Ballito on Thursday, claiming the premier JQS1,000-rated men's and women's event titles, respectively.
The opening event in the 13-day Ballito Pro Surf Festival featured the country's best 18-and-under surfers alongside a contingent of highly rated international competitors as they battled for trophies, prize money and points on the WSL Africa rankings lists.
Pupo, 17, was the standout performer throughout the three day event, consistently delivering the highest scores in each round and demonstrating an outstanding ability to perform gravity-defying aerial manoeuvres high above the lip.
He faced his toughest test in the final when his opponent, former South African U16 champion Ethan Fletcher, took the lead at the halfway point of the 25 minute encounter with a ride the length of Willard Beach that earned 7.83. But with an excellent 8.67 in his score-line for a huge air-reverse, the Brazilian needed just 5.80 for victory and posted a 6.30 at the five minute mark to establish a lead that Fletcher ultimately could not match.
"My strategy really worked for me. Five minutes into the heat I had two scores already and that made me comfortable for the rest of the heat and I'm super-happy to have this win," said Pupo. "I've been trying airs my whole life so now I'm doing them in heats and I can get a nine, or I can get a two, but it worked for me in this final. This win for me is so important as I've been in a couple of Junior finals but I've never had a win. I've turned 17, so I'm really happy to have my first win."
The JQS women's final was an all international encounter between McDougall and Pacha Luque-Light of Australia that see-sawed back and forth with the lead changing hands after virtually every ride.
McDougall, winner of the corresponding event last year and four more JQS and QS events in South Africa this year, took an early lead with a 7.33 on her first ride. But she was overtaken by Luque-Light's 7.50 before clinching victory with an excellent 8.87 for a ride that ticked all the judging criteria of commitment, speed, power, flow and variety of manoeuvres.
‘It was fun and I guess it went according to plan, although I didn't catch many waves and I'd like to catch more waves," said McDougall. "I've only surfed against Pacha here in South Africa, but we became friends at the ISA Worlds and she's super-sweet, super-cool and fun to hang out with, so it was just good vibes in the water.
"The points in this event only count for the South Africans so I was just trying to learn more about the break. It's pretty tricky and has changed quite a bit since last year, so I'm just trying to spend as much time as possible in the water as a warm up for the QS1,000 event on the weekend where the points count on the world rankings."
Luque-Light was elated to reach the final and the ebullient No. 17 on the Australian junior women rankings has had a great time in the month she has spent competing in four events in South Africa.
"I've being going into the events here with a positive mindset, catching waves and being smiley, having fun and enjoying the experience. So out there it was so much fun to surf with just one other girl out and go on any wave you want with the priority system," said Luque-Light. "Zoe is awesome and such a good surfer so it was perfect to surf against her. It's been an amazing month here in South Africa, meeting new people and surfing so many new breaks that are going to the venues for the QS and Junior events for the next couple of years. It's been awesome."
The junior men's semifinals saw Fletcher defeat Angelo Faulkner when the Jeffreys Bay surfer just failed to get the required score on his final wave. Pupo posted a pair of eight point rides that left WSL Africa No. 2 ranked Adin Masencamp needing a 9.0 for a place in the final.
McDougall dominated her semifinal against S'Nenhlanhla Makubu with the young Durban surfer in a combination of 15.24 when the heat ended. Luque-Light's total of 10.83 was too much for Zoë Steyn to match.
The 2017 Billabong Junior Series is supported by All Aboard Travel, BOS, VonZipper and Zigzag.
The 20th edition of the Billabong Junior Series pres. by All Aboard travel was the opening event in the Ballito Pro Surf Festival that runs until 9 July and includes the SSA Ballito Trials pres. by Billabong, the QS1,000 Ballito Women's Pro pres. by Billabong and the QS10,000 Ballito Pro pres. by Billabong.
The next event in the festival is the SSA Ballito Trials pres. by Billabong which will be run on Thursday with and all South African 32 man field battling for the last remaining wildcard into the QS10,000 that starts on Monday 3 July.