Like moths to a flame, the brightest opportunities for points and cash tend to attract many of the biggest names. That seems to be the case with this week’s QS 10,000 event, the Ballito Pro, which gets under way Monday in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Among the Championship Tour surfers jumping into the fray are Brazilians Wiggolly Dantas, Alejo Muniz and Jadson Andre, Aussies Ace Buchan and Matt Wilkinson and South African local Jordy Smith.
Kilauea’s Sebastian Zietz will be in the mix, looking to pick up some necessary QS points and improve upon his qualifying standing. So will Freddy Patacchia, Dusty Payne and Keanu Asing.
That foursome headlines a healthy group of Hawaii surfers, which will include Mason Ho, Granger Larsen, Kiron Jabour, Tanner Hendrickson, Ezekiel Lau and Kauai’s Alex Smith.
There are plenty of QS 10,000 contests remaining, but just the Ballito Pro and the US Open of Surfing before this year’s rankings are used to determine which competitors will make it into those later fields. So anyone eyeing a late-season push needs to step up their game immediately to even guarantee inclusion and an opportunity towards the back end of the year.
With 96 surfers, there are bound to be some intriguing heats right from the start. Smith and Ho are the only two Hawaii surfers to be matched up in round one when they are part of a foursome with Miguel Pupo and Cooper Chapman. Ho enters ranked 44th on the QS with his only premium result a second place at the Volcom Pipe Pro. Smith is still looking for his first signature result of the season after a few early exits. This will be his first Ballito Pro and it’s a difficult draw for his opening heat.
Payne is Hawaii’s highest-ranked QS surfer, sitting at number 10. The Maui product has struggled in CT events, ranking 33rd after five contests. While the Top 22 is still a possibility with more than half the schedule remaining, he can ease some of the pressure by moving further up into the top 10 on the QS. To do so, he’ll have to at least survive an opening heat against Aussie Davey Cathels and Brazilians Lucas Silveira and Bino Lopes.
Patacchia and Lau sit at 28th and 30th, respectively, on the QS and each could make a dramatic jump with a strong result. Lau has one of the toughest first-round draws of anyone. He’ll be taking on Buchan, France’s Maxime Huscenot and South Africa’s Michael February. Huscenot has a smooth style and reached the Round of 16 at Saquarema, while the powerful February was runner-up at Martinique. It’s still very early in Lau’s career, but he’s on pace to have his best season to date and progressing further up the leader board will make him very dangerous at year’s end in Hawaii.
Zietz hasn’t done himself any favors on the QS, though he did take a fourth place at the Pipe Pro. He enters the contest in 95th and with a CT ranking of 19. Luckily Seabass has re-qualified the past two years using his CT standing, but it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. With so many world tour competitors showing they’re capable of big results this year, his position in that Top 22 is precarious. Picking up a nice score this week in South Africa, just in case, would be a big boost to his prospects. His opening round includes a cool mix of youth and experience with American Patrick Gudauskas, along with Aussies Mitch Crews and Soli Bailey.
Two surfers will still be entering the field of 96 through the trials and when they do, one will be thrust into maybe the most interesting heat of round one. Aussie trio Wilkinson, Dion Atkinson and Mitch Coleborn all have the potential to win this event, but they’re all lined up together in the first round. Wilkinson’s had an up-and-down year on the CT, but he’s the second seed this week behind just Brazil’s Italo Ferreira. Atkinson and Coleborn are both world tour tested and losing at least one of those three so early is an unfortunate roll of the dice.
Kwa-Zulu Natal sits 12 hours ahead of Hawaiian Standard Time, so you may need to pull some all-nighters to take in the live stream. Hopefully the red eyes and extra shots of espresso prove to be worth the effort.