In the early hours of this African morning, last year's winner of the Nelson Mandela Bay Surf Pro presented by Billabong, a young Michael February from Cape Town was defeated at the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach. While his loss in the second round at this event to Frederico Morais from Portugal was unfortunate - the South African rookie broke his board in the heat - the fact that he is competing on the World Surf League's Championship Tour is testament to the success of the City Surf Series in South Africa.
In its inception year last year, Mikey took full advantage of the points available on the City Surf Series, and with a number of wins and other great results, amassed enough of those points to become very close to qualifying for the Championship Tour. Coupled with the nagging foot injury of Kelly Slater and Mick Fanning retiring, he found himself on the CT this year. His run for qualification, however, all started at this very event last year.
His path to the top - via a functional domestic circuit - is incredibly inspirational and clearly explains the route that the young surfers of South Africa and the rest of the world need to undertake in order to achieve their greatest goals.
Talking of which, it was young Japanese surfer Kenta Ishikawa who had everyone talking after his first round heat in the open division. Ishikawa found two long and running left-handers while the rest of the surfers opted for the rights, and this strategy paid off, banking the natural-footer a 7 and a 7.5 for a clear victory over Ethan Fletcher and Bryce Du Preez.
"Kenta was a real stand-out this morning," said beach commentator Kai Linder on the young Japanese surfer's performance. "The waves were a bit small and soft, but they were very competitive and it was the Japanese surfer along with Matt Pallet from South Africa who stood out."
Unfortunately the Japanese surfer could not keep the momentum going in round two and was sent packing by Brandon Benjamin from South Africa, Ty Watson from Australia and Craig Johnson, also from South Africa. Other surfers who were surprisingly eliminated in round two were the likes of Koby Oberholzer, Luke Slijpen and Matt Pallet, but the two Australian visitors, Ty Watson and Jordan Lawler as well as New Zealand surfer Daniel Farr are all still in the game.
Another surfer who stood out was the talented goofy-footer Joshe Faulkner who posted the highest score of the day of an 8.75 for a long ride in round two that was punctuated with multiple radical moves that saw him win his heat and advance to round three. Chad Du Toit and Adin Masencamp were also impressive in the clean conditions and all won through.
The standouts from the Open Women's first round were Kai Woolf, originally from Jeffreys Bay but now surfing for New Zealand, along with the dynamic Zoë Steyn. Woolf the plucky goofy-footer put on a determined effort in her opening heat to impress the judges and spectators. The conditions remained good, with the surf staying clean for most of the day, and the wind in Port Elizabeth simply forgetting to blow. The incoming tide made the conditions a little bit challenging for the girls in the late afternoon, but it didn't hamper them in the slightest.
The weather maps show another great day with a slight drop in swell and minimal wind again tomorrow. The JQS surfers will hit the water and crown new champions after last year's women's winner Kayla Nogueira was eliminated in Round 1 and 2017 men's champ Jake Elkington no longer a junior.
It might be April Fool's day but expect no messing around from these fiercely-contested divisions. The junior surfers in South Africa are arguably the most competitive of all surfers in the country, and there will be little room to move as these surfers don their singlets in the morning.
After the VW Nelson Mandela Bay Surf Pro pres by Billabong, the next event in the City Surf Series will be the Royal St Andrews Port Alfred Classic pres by Quiksilver (April 6-8). This will see the WSL re-visit the great waves at the mouth of the Kowie River in the Eastern Cape for first time in more than two decades.