Among the women, one wildcard and one injury replacement will be paddling out: former WSL Championship Tour (CT) surfer Bianca Buitendag, who's from South Africa, is the wildcard, while Macy Callaghan, of Australia, is the replacement for Paige Hareb. Callaghan, who's just 17, has been a Junior World Champion and is working her way up the WSL Qualifying Series (QS) in an effort to qualify for the 2019 CT. She'll arrive at J-Bay as one of the highest-ranked surfers on the women's international Qualifying Series rankings who's not also on the CT. All of which bodes well for Callaghan's chances at qualification by year's end.
Still to be determined, however, is how she'll fare against her elder, more seasoned opponents. In Round 1, she'll face fellow Australians Stephanie Gilmore (the six-time World Champ) and Nikki Van Dijk, who's ranked World No. 11 on the Jeep Leaderboard. Both women have a lot to fight for: Van Dijk is just outside of the requalification cutoff on both the CT (where 10 is the cutoff) and the QS (where 6 is the cutoff; she's at No. 7), and will be surfing, hard, for job security. Gilmore, for her part, is so close to earning a seventh World Title she can practically taste it.
Buitendag, meanwhile, has been making consistent appearances on the CT since falling off Tour after the 2016 season. So far this year, she surfed at the Roxy Pro Gold Coast (at Snapper), but her run was done in Round 2. And she, too, will face two women with a lot riding on their J-Bay performances: Lakey Peterson, the current World No. 1, who's fending off an attack by Gilmore, and Malia Manuel who, like Van Dijk, is ranked outside of contention for requalification.
On the plus side for Buitendag, however, South Africa is her home turf. Between the support of the crowd and, perhaps, the thrill of the first women's J-Bay event in her generation, there might be a little extra fire in her belly, along with the bunny chow.
Among the men, the latest and final addition to the draw is Matthew McGillivray who, following the end of the Qualifying Series contest in Ballito, is the highest-ranked South African on the international QS rankings, at No. 17. In Round 1, he'll face Jeep Leader Julian Wilson and previous J-Bay winner Joel Parkinson.
Plus, as was previously reported, former CT surfers and fellow Brasilians Miguel Pupo and Wiggolly Dantas will be filling in for John John Florence and Caio Ibelli, both of whom are injured. In Round 1, Pupo will face Brasilian powerhouses Gabriel Medina and Tomas Hermes, and Dantas will face Australian Matt Wilkinson and Brasilian Filipe Toledo, who blew minds last year with his progressive approach to surfing J-Bay's Supertubes.
Meanwhile, Australia's favorite QS surfer, Mikey Wright, is the pre-selected wildcard. The last men's wildcard slot will go to the hight-ranked South African surfer on the QS after the Ballito Pro, which runs this week. Wright -- whose siblings, Owen and Tyler Wright, are also CT surfers -- will face Californians Kolohe Andino and Patrick Gudauskas in Round 1.