Challenger Series Battle Heats Up At Ballito Pro Presented By O'Neill

Updated: Aug 18

The Ballito Pro presented by O’Neill, the third stop of the 2022 World Surf League (WSL) Challenger Series (CS), resumed today in wind-affected three-to-four foot surf and completed a major day of competition to whittle the fields down to just 16 men and 14 women. The women’s Round of 32 was first to hit the lineup bright and early with a mix of former CT athletes and hopeful qualifiers taking advantage of the small but clean surf on offer.


Aussie powerhouse Macy Callaghan (AUS) and American up-and-comer Alyssa Spencer (USA) put on a clinic and defeated the last two South Africans in contention on their way to the Round of 16.


Bettylou Sakura Johnson (HAW) was the other standout in the morning as she continued her bid to rejoin the Championship Tour.

Zoe McDougall (HAW) is into the Quarterfinals at the Ballito Pro pres. by O'Neill. Credit: © WSL/Tostee


Perennial threats Keely Andrew (AUS) and Pauline Ado (FRA) as well as Amuro Tsuzuki (JPN) and Luana Silva (HAW) were some of the biggest names failing to advance and eliminated early from competition.


The first two Quarterfinalists were also decided at the end of the day, with Bronte Macaulay (AUS) winning a hard-fought battle of low scores against Paige Hareb (NZL).


"I actually struggle a lot to adapt in these small conditions," Macaulay admitted. "I know this wave has potential so I’m hoping this weekend will be good, but it was great to watch the guys' heats with everyone going to the air and to see the Aussies go through."

Zoe McDougall (HAW) drew inspiration from past experience in South Africa as a junior on the Qualifying Series (QS) to eliminate the recent winner on the Challenger Series Teresa Bonvalot (PRT).


"I've seen Ballito like this before. It still has pockets and you can make it fun," McDougall said. "That heat was a little redemption against Teresa who got one on me in Manly. I look forward to drawing on my previous experience here and taking it into the next round."

Luke Thompson Flies South African Flag High

Pictured: Luke Thompson (RSA) on his way to his best result on the Challenger Series at the Ballito Pro pres. by O'Neill. Credit: © WSL/Van Gysen


On the men’s side of the draw, local fans were pulling for their last two representatives, Slade Prestwich (ZAF) in the first heat of the Round of 24, and Luke Thompson (ZAF) in the third.


Prestwich struggled to find scoring opportunities and bowed out in 17th place, his best result on the Challenger Series so far this year.


Giant-killer Thompson continued to dominate as he faced a major challenge against former World Junior Champion Vasco Ribeiro (PRT) and Timothee Bisso (FRA). The young wildcard who earned his spot through the trials got up to a quick start to take an early lead he would keep all the way to the final buzzer.


With a few minutes on the clock and pressure at an all-time high, Thompson destroyed a good-sized right and posted a solid 7.17 to solidify his first position.


“I’m so stoked, that heat was a huge one for me,” Thompson said. “Coming in I was just swamped by the support crew and all the South Africans, it was overwhelming with happiness, it was just super cool. I don’t feel any pressure in this contest, I’m just enjoying every moment and looking forward to fly the South African flag high.”

Thompson, the highest-ranked male South African surfer on the Challenger Series rankings and highest-ranked male South African surfer on the Ballito Pro Challenger Series event, was awarded a wildcard for the Corona Open J-Bay set for 12-21 July 2022.


John John Florence (HAW) has withdrawn from the Corona Open J-Bay after following his doctor's advice to continue the healing process of his knee injury and Thompson accepted the replacement spot.


“I’m in disbelief that I’m going to surf my first Championship Tour event at J-Bay, my favourite wave in the world," an elated Thompson reacted. "I can’t believe I’ll be able to get at least two heats in J-Bay with just another guy out there, I’m still in shock!”


Progressive Surfing Pushes Envelope At Ballito

Pictured: Mateus Herdy (BRA) launching into the air at the Ballito Pro pres. by O'Neill. Credit: © WSL/Tostee


It was an air show between Mateus Herdy (BRA) and Rio Waida (IDN) as the two kept on pushing the bar for air reverses in the onshore wind. Herdy launched himself into first, ahead of Waida, sending John Mel (USA) packing.


“All respect to John Mel, but Rio and I are such good friends. We looked at each other and we’re like it’s on between you and me! It was such a fun heat,” said Herdy. “He inspires me so much and he makes me work hard. He already has that CS win, now it’s my turn! I haven’t been home since the beginning of the year, I’m working so hard, and every wildcard opportunity I get I realize how much I want it. My surfing fits the tour, but the CT is the best in the world so you have to give 100% all the time.”

Eithan Osborne (USA) had plenty of fun in the air against Michael Rodriguez (BRA) and Lucca Mesinas (PER). Showcasing his progressive surfing, Osborne completed a pop shove-it, rotating his surfboard 180 degrees underneath his feet for one of the biggest scores of the day, a 7.50 (out of a possible 10). Competing in Ballito wasn't part of the plan, yet Osborne secured his best result on the Challenger Series as he advances to the Round of 16.


Current CS rankings leader Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) and CT standout Frederico Morais (PRT) took out the last two heats of the round to keep their Ballito campaign alive and well.


The next call will be at 6:30 a.m on Saturday for a potential 7:05 a.m start to likely resume the women’s Round of 16.


The 2022 Ballito Pro presented by O'Neill Challenger Series will run at Willard Beach July 3 - 10, 2022.


For a recap of Day 2 at the Ballito Pro, click here.


Stay tuned to American Surf Magazine for more coverage from South Africa.