The bustling seaside town of Ballito -- about 45 minutes north of Durban, on South Africa's east coast -- is getting ready for the upcoming 50th edition of the Ballito Pro pres by Billabong, a WSL Qualifying Series (QS) event worth 10,000 points. With surfers from all over the world flying in for the event, the first event of that magnitude this year, it's going to be a week of hard-core surf action and no-holds-barred competition as all the surfers vie for those valuable, career-defining points.
A big result at Ballito can, quite literally, turn a surfer into a superstar.
Last year some of the top finishers in the contest included Jordy Smith, No. 8 on the Jeep Leaderboard, Michael February, who qualified for the CT largely on strength of his third-place result in this event, as well as Willian Cardoso from Brazil and Wade Carmichael from Australia.
Similarly, Mikey Wright, also from Australia -- and brother of CT surfers Owen Wright and Tyler Wright -- used his Semifinal place in the 2017 event to scoop up a few CT wildcard slots during the first half of 2018. His points from those performances, as well as his strong showing on the QS rankings (he's currently No. 3, where the Top 10 qualify), put him in a solid position to qualify for the 2019 CT season.
The South African contingent has a received a few pleasant surprises, with a couple of wildcard tickets going out to the top local performers. The two wildcards for Ballito have been awarded to Matthew McGillivray from J-Bay -- the highest-placed South African on the International 2018 Qualifying Series rankings, where is currently sitting at 10th place -- and Adin Masencamp, who is the next-highest QS ranked South African who did not automatically qualify.
The third wildcard is the one that usually goes to the Trials event winner, but this year there is no trial event. Instead, it has been converted to another wildcard, and has been awarded to Jordy Maree for being the highest-ranked surfer on the WSL African 2018 QS who hadn't qualified for Ballito.
On top of these wildcards, South Africa already has the CT duo of Smith and rookie February, as well as local hero Beyrick De Vries from nearby Umhlanga, and Durban standout David van Zyl.
Smith is the defending champion, and knows the nuances of Willard Beach and surroundings, having spent much of his youth patrolling this stretch. The Ballito Pro is the one QS event that Jordy competes in regardless if where he is ranked on the Jeep Leaderboard because he loves the waves on the North Coast and has close friends in the area. He is always surrounded by friends and family at this event and thrives on the vibe.
Smith is not the only CT surfer who will be competing in this tournament. In fact, 18 of the top 34 CT men have entered the event. Other internationally renowned CT stars include former winners Connor O'Leary (AUS) and Patrick Gudauskas (USA), Frenchmen Jeremy Flores and Joan Duru, Brasilians Yago Dora and Michael Rodrigues, Kanoa Igarashi who now represents Japan, and the dynamic young aerialist rookie Griffin Colapinto (USA).
One of the great additions to this surf tournament, of which there are many, is that international surfing legend Shaun Tomson, the 1977 World Surfing Champion and now a globally acclaimed motivational speaker, author and filmmaker, will headline the 50th anniversary celebrations. Tomson will conduct a Positive Wave Tour driven by SMG Rocks that visits schools in KwaDukuza in the lead- up to and during the event and culminates in 67 minutes of service at a selected school on July 18, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nelson Mandela.
Another key addition is that of Jack Robinson, who will be surfing in the contest Robinson was a wildcard for Margaret River and showed incredible performances at North Point. The event, however, was canceled and moved to Uluwatu, where Robinson faced off against Gabriel Medina in the small and fast left-handers, and the young Australian had little chance against the former world champion goofyfooter. He was earmarked for a massive career from a young age, and his performance in Western Australia vindicated this, but it didn't happen. If Willard Beach is big and throaty, Robinson could be the man to beat with his penchant for charging.
The first few days of competition show some great winds for this time of the year and some clean conditions. The Golden Jubilee edition of the Ballito includes the 21st edition of the Junior Qualifying Series (JQS) Billabong Junior Series pres. by BOS from June 22-24 and the QS1,000 Ballito Women's Pro pres. by Billabong that runs in conjunction with the Men's QS10,000 event.