Updated: Jul 13, 2022
BALLITO, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa (Wednesday, 6 July 2022) - The Ballito Pro presented by O’Neill, the third stop of the 2022 World Surf League (WSL) Challenger Series (CS), resumed today in four-to-five foot surf and completed the remaining heats of the women's Round of 64 as well as the men's Round of 48. Fresh off a win in the junior division last week-end, Bettylou Sakura Johnson (HAW) took out the day’s first heat to advance into the Round of 32. The Hawaiian, a rookie on the Championship Tour (CT) who failed to make the Mid-season Cut, currently sits just outside the qualifying Top 5 on the CS rankings and will look to post a big result in Ballito this week. “Those sandbanks on the rights are a little iffy when the tide comes in and the lefts just reform a bit better,” Sakura Johnson explained. “I’m really fired up to do well on those Challenger Series, there’s many venues so I’m very excited for that. I’m just going to try and push hard to rejoin the tour, and enjoy the ride.”
Caitlin Simmers (USA) overcame jetlag to win her opening heat at the Ballito Pro pres. by O'Neill. WSL/Van Gysen
The current CS rankings leader Caitlin Simmers (USA) got off to a good start as well with a heat win in challenging conditions to move into the second round.
The Californian surfer from Oceanside actually qualified for the CT last year but declined her spot for 2022 to focus on improving her surfing and on school.
With a win on the Gold Coast and a 5th place in Sydney, Simmers currently looks like the number one pick to join the elite tour next season.
“The traveling here has been a long one for sure and I’ve been battling jet lag for a few days,” Simmers said. “We got a couple days of fun waves when we arrived, right now it’s a little more difficult but it’s been a good trip so far. I thought I’d get more waves in that heat, the ocean wasn’t very generous with us but I’m glad I got those that counted and happy with the result.”
Van Dijk, Thompson and Hanneman Go Excellent In Ballito
Nikki van Dijk (AUS) proving there are scoring opportunities available at the Ballito Pro pres. by O'Neill. WSL/Van Gysen
As conditions started to improve on the outgoing tide, Australians Sophie McCulloch and Nikki Van Dijk extended the scoring scope with the first good numbers of the day. Van Dijk even posted the first excellent 8.50 for an impressive combination of three backhand turns on a clean running left.
A 7-year veteran on the CT, Van Dijk is fighting to get back on tour and looks in fine form sitting in second position on the CS currently.
“I’m feeling great,” said van Dijk. “It’s similar conditions to what we surfed in Manly. I’ve never been to Ballito before and it’s beautiful here. When we first arrived the waves were pumping so I know it can get really good, but it was tricky out there today."
In the men's competition, Luke Thompson (RSA) put on another possibly career-defining performance in a star-studded heat against Kei Kobayashi (USA), Mateus Herdy (BRA) and Santiago Muniz (ARG).
The South African wasted no time to catch an excellent right and belt a bunch of strong turns for an 8.67, the day’s highest single score at this point. He struggled to back it up with something substantial but managed to contain a late charge from his opponents to advance in second position behind Herdy into the Round of 24.
“I had a plan at the beginning and I saw some really good scores coming through from the top of the point,” said Thompson. “I saw a big wave coming and I was nervous and excited at the same time. It just opened up and I tried to do the best surfing I could. After that wave I was so out of rhythm and couldn’t find a backup score. I tried to control the heat at the end, they are all such good surfers and can get the number on any wave, so I’m lucky it went my way.”
Hawaiian rising star Eli Hanneman was the first surfer to reach the 9-point range with an epic display above the lip on his backside.
The Maui local managed to leapfrog his competitors in an otherwise super tense heat with a full rotation, perfectly landed on the flat part in front of the wave and was rewarded fittingly by the judging panel.
After two deceiving first-round exit in the previous CS events, Hanneman is looking to post a good result in Ballito and turn his season around before the halfway mark.
“It was a slow heat, but I saw that wave coming and I knew what I wanted to do so I’m stoked it worked out in my favor,” said Hanneman. “I didn’t really know what the air was like, how high it was so I didn’t know what to expect, but it felt good so I knew it was going to be my best wave for sure.”
Early Exits For Top Men
Another win for the local crowd also meant a massive upset for a tour veteran.
Slade Prestwich (ZAF) continued to find his rhythm in familiar waters as he dispatched Ezekiel Lau (HAW) in the men's Round of 48 opening heat.
“I was watching the ocean before my heat and it was either the sets came or it was kind of flat,” Prestwich reflected. “So as soon as that first set came I knew I had to take something left or right. They’re such good waves but it’s tough to decide if you wait or play busy, I chose to wait, I think it was better. I’m excited, I know I’m going to surf tomorrow and the forecast looks good. If the swell does pull through, I’m going to be stoked.”
The Brazilian pair of Deivid Silva and Alejo Muniz put on an impressive effort in their heat to dispatch former World No.5 Morgan Cibilic (AUS) and keep their Ballito campaign going.
Quite surprisingly neither surfer went to the air, but instead charged their way on the rights and lefts with powerful and dynamic turns to build healthy totals and momentum into the Round of 24.
“I have good memories from winning here in Ballito in 2019,” Silva said. “I’m really happy to be back, the vibe is always great at the beach and I’m happy to make through this heat. It was a tough one, Alejo (Muniz) is also a past winner here and Morgan (Cibilic) and Crosby (Colapinto) are always dangerous. I’ve trained a lot at home and am feeling good right now.”
Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) is currently nr.1 on the Challenger Series rankings. Credit: © WSL/Tostee
The third day of action wrapped with two of Europe’s finest, former CT surfers Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) and Frederico Morais (PRT) punching the last tickets for the Round of 24 and sending local favourite and 2021 Ballito Pro winner Adin Masencamp (RSA) packing. Morais took the win, but it’s Fioravanti who was feeling the most pressure as the current rankings leader looks to continue building on a strong season start on the Challenger Series.
The WSL Tours and Competitions team will make the next call Thursday, 7 July at 6:30 a.m. for a potential 7:05 a.m. (GMT+2) start.
Stay tuned to American Surf Magazine for more coverage.