Seabass headlines deep field at 10k Ballito Pro

I really used to like when it was called the Mr. Price Pro Ballito. For some reason that name always conjured a vision of a Rastafarian with a surfboard cruising the beaches of South Africa. But after the sponsorship ended two years ago, now it’s just the Ballito Pro, which just doesn’t carry the same whimsy.

Oh well. I guess I’ll just have to settle for it being the biggest Qualifying Series event of the season thus far.

As the first QS 10,000 contest of 2016, the Ballito Pro has brought in some heavy hitters all trying to earn the valuable QS points and the $40,000 top prize. Sebastian Zietz leads that group of entries as the highest ranked Championship Tour competitor in the field.

Now in sixth on the CT, Seabass is looking to solidify that with some QS results in case he isn’t able to compete in the entire CT schedule and his ranking takes a hit. Hopefully that’s not a necessity and these QS contests can be more of a training ground than pressure-packed four-man heats. But Zietz is proving to be a more seasoned competitor this year, so he’s a threat at any contest he enters.

This would be a great spot to get back into that winning form after a pair of disappointing results in Fiji and Rio, which have slightly dropped Zietz from his high point of No. 2 in the world.

A big run at the Ballito Pro will go a long way for some of the top seeds who have been snake bitten on the CT this year, namely Jeremy Flores.

The former Pipe Master has a tremendous resume but the results in 2016 are very underwhelming. He’s currently 30th on the CT rankings and is yet to make it out of round three. The Frenchman has finished in the top 10 five times in the last nine seasons so he’s not out of contention for re-qualification just yet. But he’ll be putting in a much heavier workload the rest of the season to hopefully keep his spot.

South African local Jordy Smith will be the fan favorite this week. He’s a former contest champ with plenty of experience at Ballito. Outside the Triple Crown, Smith doesn’t usually surf many QS contests. But he almost always participates at home to give the locals a rooting interest and the up-and-comers someone to target.

Keanu Asing, Dusty Payne, Ezekiel Lau, Josh Moniz, Seth Moniz, Granger Larsen and Tanner Hendrickson round out the Hawaii contingent after a somewhat disappointing round one. Mason Ho, Kiron Jabour, Torrey Meister and Kaito Kino were all eliminated in the Round of 112.

I’d keep an eye on Aussie Jack Freestone as a potential winner this week. When healthy in 2016, he’s been very much in form, finishing runner-up at the Oi Rio Pro. He was a quarterfinalist in Ballito two years ago and put up some big scores during that contest. This could be a nice re-emergence leading into Jeffreys Bay.

All the top seeds have to survive the dreaded four-man heats for two rounds, then a three-man heat before finally getting head-to-head in the Round of 16. There are always surprises in these formats so just because the big names have entered the fray doesn’t mean they’ll be the last ones standing.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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