- WSL / Pierre Tostee
Highlights: Finals Day at the O'Neill SMTH Shapes Rookie Rippers
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Watch the Finals Day at the O'Neill SMTH Shapes Rookie Rippers

Zoë Steyn and Tide-Lee Ireland won the O'Neill SMTH Shapes Rookie Rippers World Surf League (WSL) Junior Qualifying Series (JQS) 1,000 today ahead of Sarah Scott and Connor Slijpen.

South Africa's top juniors had their work cut out for them with a drop in swell and a strong southwest wind, creating some choppy conditions.

BALLITO, KWAZULU-NATAL, SOUTH AFRICA - DECEMBER 14: Zoe Steyn of South Africa surfing in the Finals of the O'Neill SMTH Rookie Rippers Pro Junior on December 14, 2021 in Ballito, South Africa. (Photo by Pierre Tostee/World Surf League). Zoe Steyn - WSL / Pierre Tostee

In the Women's Final, Sarah Scott and Zoë Steyn made the most out of the conditions on offer. Scott opened up the scoreboard, staying busy up and down the lineup. Steyn waited patiently and soon found a couple of bigger right-handers to open up with her powerful backhand. With every next wave, the goofy-footer from East London continued to improve her score and increasing the requirement for Scott to catch up. 

"I'm so happy to be back here. It's so nice to restart competition here, because Ballito is such a beautiful place and the waves are always fun and contestable. I'm really stoked to win, I knew it was going to be a difficult final, because Sarah has been shredding. I was looking at the waves with my coach beforehand, and even in the previous heats it wasn't easy, so I'm just happy I found those two waves to allow me to do my thing!" 

BALLITO, KWAZULU-NATAL, SOUTH AFRICA - DECEMBER 14: Tide Lee Ireland of South Africa surfing in the Finals of the O'Neill SMTH Rookie Rippers Pro Junior on December 14, 2021 in Ballito, South Africa. (Photo by Pierre Tostee/World Surf League). Tide Lee Ireland - WSL / Pierre Tostee

In the Men's Final, it was the local youngster Tide-Lee Ireland who defeated Connor Slijpen in tricky, wind-chopped surf. Ireland locked in his two best waves straight after one another for a total of 14.50, and Slijpen found himself in a combination situation early on. Slijpen searched desperately for a wave that could give him a scoring opportunity, but his frustration was visible and he struggled to convert his aerial attempts into a scoring ride.

"I'm stoked, the waves worked in my favour on the lefts, but it was very slow and bumpy. I was lucky to get the right waves. I tried to get the first better wave, and be a bit more patient because we had 25 minutes. I didn't want to rush it and stick to the left and try get another big score," said Ireland.

BALLITO, KWAZULU-NATAL, SOUTH AFRICA - DECEMBER 14: Sarah Scott of South Africa surfing against Ceara Knight in Heat 1 of the Women's Semifinals at the O'Neill SMTH Rookie Rippers Pro Junior on December 14, 2021 in Ballito, South Africa. (Photo by Pierre Sarah Scott - WSL / Pierre Tostee

It was no surprise when the current U16 SA champ Sarah Scott and defending WSL Africa junior champ Ceara Knight,  both from Cape Town, met each other in the first women's semifinal. It was a case of quality over quantity in the difficult conditions, with the two experienced competitors hunting for the best waves that could offer just enough for one big maneuver. In the end, it was Scott who pipped Knight to secure a spot in the Finals.

BALLITO, KWAZULU-NATAL, SOUTH AFRICA - DECEMBER 14: Gemma Hanafey of South Africa surfing against Zoe Steyn in Heat 2 of the Women's Semifinals at the O'Neill SMTH Rookie Rippers Pro Junior on December 14, 2021 in Ballito, South Africa. (Photo by Pierre T Gemma Hanafey - WSL / Pierre Tostee

Zoë Steyn opened up strong in the second semifinal with a big backhand whack, overcoming a crumbly section to fit in another maneuver at the end of the wave for a 6.75. Wasting no time, Steyn took off on a wave under priority that opened up, giving her plenty of space to carve on the wave face and commit to a vertical backhand slash for a 7.5. Gemma Hanafey (East London) was in a combination situation for the rest of the heat, finishing behind Steyn.

BALLITO, KWAZULU-NATAL, SOUTH AFRICA - DECEMBER 14: Luke Thompson of South Africa surfing against Tide Lee Ireland in Heat 1 of the Men's Semifinals at the O'Neill SMTH Rookie Rippers Pro Junior on December 14, 2021 in Ballito, South Africa. (Photo by Pie Luke Thompson - WSL / Pierre Tostee

Heat 1 of the Men's Semifinal saw Tide-Lee Ireland go for a massive boost above the lip of the wave and land perfectly for an excellent 9-point ride to put pressure on fellow Durbanite and defending event winner, Luke Thompson. Ireland increased his lead with a great back-up score of 7.50 and put Thompson into a combination situation, needing to improve both of his scoring rides.

BALLITO, KWAZULU-NATAL, SOUTH AFRICA - DECEMBER 14: Connor Slijpen of South Africa surfing in the Finals of the O'Neill SMTH Rookie Rippers Pro Junior on December 14, 2021 in Ballito, South Africa. (Photo by Pierre Tostee/World Surf League). Connor Slijpen - WSL / Pierre Tostee

The second Semifinal was a Cape Town match-up between Connor Slijpen (Llandudno) and Brad Scott (Kommetjie). It was a slower heat with both surfers patiently building on their scores but Scott was in the lead. Finally, Slijpen caught a wave under priority and blitzed his way towards an upcoming section for a clean full rotation air. With five minutes to go, Slijpen found his rhythm and used the wind to his advantage to launch himself into the air and snatched the lead from Scott with 0.2 points.

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