South Africa’s surf stars are ready to take on the world’s best at the 2015 Ballito Pro presented by Billabong which runs from 29June – 5 July at Surfer’s Beach in Ballito , KwaZulu-Natal.
The Ballito Pro is a Qualifyung Series 10 000 rated event on the World Surf League (WSL) (QS). It features an elite 96-man entry of the world top ranked surfers.
On offer is a total prize-purse of US $250 000 (over R3 million) and invaluable ranking points, with the winner taking home nearly R500 000 and adding 10,000 points to his season’s tally.
The quality the entry for this year’s event is evident. Two South African surfers, Jordy Smith (Durban) and Beyrick de Vries (Umhlanga), qualified for the event based on their 2014 year end rankings. Two more, Michael February (Kommetjie) and Dale Staples (St Francis Bay), have received wildcards as they are the highest placed local surfers on the 2015 QS rankings.
Another 17 locals will be aiming for one of the spots allocated to the top two placed surfers in the Ballito Pro Trials presented by Billabong where they are in a 32-man lineup that includes 15 highly rated international competitors on Sunday 28 June.
Smith, who injured his knee while free-surfing outside the contest arena, has been following a strenuous rehabilitation programme and returned to his hometown from his new home in California earlier this week. The current No. 18 on the elite Samsung Galaxy WSL Championship Tour (CT) and 2010 Ballito event winner glad to be back surfing and is looking forward to his first competition heat after the injury.
“I tore the meniscus and capsule in my knee, but it’s recovered now and it feels great to back in the water,” Smith said. “It’s a great time of year to be home and I’m just looking to gain some confidence surfing again. It’s all about winning the first heat and it’s going to be a blast for sure. I love coming home.”
De Vries is placed 63rd on the QS rankings and, having grown up on the KwaDukuza coast, will have massive hometown support in his bid clinch the honours in an event that he is highly motivated to win.
“The Ballito Pro is one event I really, really want to win, it’s really special for me’ de Vries said. “Every year it comes around I think I’m going to be nervous, but I end up feeling good. I went to school with the guys from Ballito so there are familiar faces on the beach supporting me. I’m surfing lots, I’ve got good boards and this last week my friend Davey Cathels from Australia has been staying with me and we’ve been training together, so I’m fit and ready.”
After a career best runner-up finish in the QS 3 000 Martinique Pro in April, February is the country’s highest QS ranked surfer at No. 58 and is happy to earn a wildcard directly into the Ballito Pro. The lanky 22 year-old’s distinctive yet versatile style that combines powerful rail turns with progressive aerial manoeuvres is tailor made for the wide range of surf conditions the competitors are likely to face during the seven day event.
“It’s super important to get a wildcard as the trials are pretty hectic this year with a combination of internationals and locals,” February said. “I’m guaranteed points now and can focus on the main event and not the trials, so that’s going to help a lot. I’ve also been to Ballito plenty of times so I’m comfortable in the waves and I’ve been spending plenty time in the water and I’m surf fit and looking forward to the event.”
This year’s Ballito Pro features 15 of the world’s top 34 surfers on the elite CT headed by rookie sensation Italo Ferreira (BRA), the current world No. 8. Other standouts are 2014 winner Tim Reyes and fellow American Kolohe Andino, last year’s runner-up Matt Wilkinson (AUS), Hawaiians Sebastian Zietz and Dusty Payne and a strong contingent of Brazilians including Miguel Pupo, Wiggolly Dantas and Jadson Andre.
Jeremy Flores (FRA), 10th in the CT rankings and the runaway leader in the QS rankings, withdrew from the event today after suffering serious facial injuries in a wipe-out while on a free-surfing trip in Indonesia.
David van Zyl (Durban), Dylan Lightfoot (Jeffreys Bay) and Slade Prestwich (Scottburgh) lead the South African challenge in the Ballito Pro Trials. Along with juniors like Salt Rock local Shane Sykes, Matthew McGillivray (Jeffreys Bay) and Adin Masencamp (Strand), they will be hoping to grab one of the trialists spots in the main event.
The KwaDukuza Municipality in partnership with Surfing South Africa (SSA) and the WSL has identified the Ikusasa Kwezinkanyezi (Future Stars) surfing development and support program as the CSI component of the annual Ballito Pro going forward. This year the project will involve five surfers from the SSA transformation program.
Ntando Msibi, Sifiso Mhlongo and Avuyile Ndamase (all Durban) and Joshe Faulkner (Jeffreys Bay) will be competing as wildcards in the Ballito Pro Trials while Samkelisiwe Cele (Durban) will become the first Zulu girl to compete in a WSL event when she participates in the Ballito Women’s Pro presented by Billabong
While the surfers ride the waves, the Ballito Pro Festival is set to turn up the heat in KwaDukuza by offering the best in beach, music and extreme sports entertainment. Locals and holiday-makers will be spoilt for choice with the week-long festival featuring an extreme sports programme, the Coastal Living Bru Food & Wine Festival and an exciting retail area while the Tropika Ballito Pro Music Concerts Powered by 5FM bring some of South Africa’s most talented music acts to the stage in Salt Rock.
Caption: Jordy Smith (Durban) in full flight at Surfers Beach in Ballito
Photo: WSL / Cestari