Ballito Pro opens slate of high-reward QS contests

Now we get to the main course.

No, I’m not talking about the World Series of Poker Main Event. This year didn’t feature any last-ditch heroics. There was no satellite victory that scored me a Main Event entry this time around. I’m happily back on Kauai and very much ready to put the 2017 WSOP behind me because it certainly didn’t leave me with much to remember, but rather plenty to forget.

No, the main course I’m speaking of is the Ballito Pro that’s ready to get under way in South Africa. The year’s first QS 10,000 contest will, in all likelihood, propel someone towards the top of the Qualifying Series leaderboard and set them up for a run at the Championship Tour. Last year’s winner, Connor O’Leary, used that result to qualify for this year’s CT and just finished runner up at the Fiji Pro.

It could be someone else’s turn to use South Africa as a springboard to world tour success. A high number of the CT’s elite are in the mix with Jordy Smith leading the field in his home country. Smith almost always competes at this contest and ups the visibility and prestige, but the 10,000 points for the winner are the real draw.

Some of the other contest favorites are Josh Kerr, Jeremy Flores, Ezekiel Lau, Keanu Asing, Ryan Callinan, Jack Freestone and Kanoa Igarashi. They all have byes into the second round and will get to observe from the beach how the waves are treating the lineup in round one.

Kauai’s Koa Smith also has a bye into round two and will have the opportunity to take on Jordy Smith and Ramzi Boukhiam in his first heat. Koa is having his best season to date and enters Ballito ranked 22nd on the QS leaderboard. He reached the quarterfinals at the Chiba Open in Japan, which helped move him into a legitimate qualification position.

It’s a tough challenge for Koa to see Jordy Smith in his opening heat but he needs to be focused on using priority wisely, making the most of his opportunities and getting into that top two to advance. That’s the name of the game in four-man heats where anything can happen. The contest switches to a head-to-head format in round five, but until then, the variables remain numerous.

In total, 13 competitors will be surfing under the Hawaiian flag. In addition to Smith, Lau and Asing, other entrants include Josh Moniz, Kiron Jabour, Torrey Meister, Billy Kemper and Seth Moniz, all of whom also have byes into round two. The opening round one will include Kaito Kino, Eli Olson, Finn McGill, Mason Ho and Cody Young.

Just five QS 10,000 events dot the schedule and the Ballito Pro has the honor of initiating that process. Considering that Jesse Mendes is the only QS surfer to have compiled more than 10,000 points for the entire 2017 season to this point, whomever leaves South Africa with a title should be setting themselves up nicely for that dream opportunity. In addition to a $40,000 grand prize, a spot on the CT is massive incentive to perform well this week.

Not only do the QS regulars have to contend with one another, they have to hope they avoid those CT phenoms for as long as possible. There’s plenty of luck involved in any surf contest, but some good fortune and execution will greatly benefit someone worthy of those precious points.

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

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