The Ballito Pro presented by O'Neill, the third Challenger Series for 2022 kicked off today in two-to-three foot surf and after waiting for the tide to drop, the opening round of the men's competition got underway.
Experience paid dividends as former Championship Tour competitors and Qualifying Series household names took most advancing positions in the first round of competition. The likes of Hawaiians Ezekiel Lau, Keanu Asing and Imaikalani deVault, or Brazil's Deivid Silva and Alejo Muniz were some of the top performers of the early morning heats.
Silva remains the defending event winner in Ballito for the QS10,000 now Challenger Series event, last held in 2019. The Brazilian who qualified for the CT that same year has just been dropped off tour following the inaugural Mid-season Cut and will look to go big on the Challenger Series in hopes of re-joining the elite next year. He posted one of the highest two-wave heat totals of today's 16 heats disputed at Willard Beach.
"Conditions were tough but I'm happy with my two waves," Silva said. "I'm stoked to make it through, the other guys started strong and it wasn't an easy heat."
The current Challenger Series rankings No.2 and most recent winner at the GWM Sydney Surf Pro , Rio Waida came out on top of a stacked heat to advance alongside former World Junior Champion Mateus Herdy. The pair engaged in an all-out dynamic surfing showdown, Herdy going above the lip repeatedly while Waida capitalized on his lightning-fast turns and combos.
"I'm really happy to make my heat, it's pretty hard conditions, but there were opportunities in my heat so it was good, I could catch a lot of waves and build my score," said Waida. "Coming into the event ranked number two on the Challenger Series is really cool. Normally I would be the underdog, or the lowest seed, but this time I'm seeded higher and it's something new. The win in Manly was really amazing, I feel more confident going into this event. I'm just going to keep believing in myself, keep surfing like I always do. My goal is to qualify, so I'm focussing on getting good results."
The first major upset came when South African superstar Jordy Smith was eliminated in his first heat in Ballito. Smith's demise was partly the responsibility of fellow South African and junior surfer Luke Thompson who dominated a superheat featuring Jordan Lawler and another former World Junior Champion, Vasco Ribeiro. Thompson came hot off a runner-up finish in the Baliito Pro Trials that earned him a spot in the main event and kept his momentum going into round one.
"I'm super stoked, I was just happy to have a heat with Jordy (Smith). He's so gnarly, especially in Ballito," said Thompson. "To have a heat with him, and Jordan Lawler and Vasco Ribeiro, who are surf idols of mine, was an honor. We had three events prior to this and I used it as a warm-up, my boards are feeling great and I'm feeling confident. I'm just going to take it one heat at a time."
"I did feel a little bit of pressure coming here as we've had the SA champs last year and I did well," Sykes said. "So it felt good to start with a good score right away and I'm super stoked to be competing here at home, it's going to be a fun week!"
Event officials will be back on deck at 6:30 a.m Tuesday for a call to potentially resume competition as early as 7:05 a.m (GMT+2). Watch it LIVE on WorldSurfLeague.com, the WSL' s YouTube or on the free WSL App.