1 July, 2019 1 July, 2019

The O’Neill Ballito Pro 2019 – Day 1

The word picturesque, it just rolls off the tongue, sweet as honey and oh so descriptive, both my pinkies started to rise as I tilted my head back to utter it out allowed here on the VIP deck for full effect. Glaring glances aside, it felt good.

Picturesque is also a word that aptly depicts what the conditions were like on day 1 here at the women’s QS 1000. Climate change or sublime intervention, I don’t know, but winter be damned, this is KZN baby!! 

Sunrise from the Ballito Pro pres by O’Neill 2019 competitors area

Those forced to rise bright and early to catch the first glimpses of what was rolling in off the horizon were anything but disappointed. The surf was 3-5ft and clean, smothered in a tangerine glaze from that burning ball of gas in the sky. Beautiful stuff.

It wasn’t only the conditions that were aesthetically pleasing, there was also the surfing. And like that burning ball of gas in the sky, it was red hot. The ladies were the first to take to the water, not holding anything back right from the get-go. Due to the early start, the heats went by quickly with no real big upsets happening along the road to the quarterfinals. With buffalo wings and spicy jalapeno cheese balls floating around the competitor’s area, the heat began to rise out of the water as a gentle land breeze came through to caress the ocean like a female lioness licking the forehead of its cub. Gentle and with purpose. 

Before those cheese balls even started to digest the quarters were underway which saw a heap of South Africans throw down. The likes of Sarah Baum, Zoe Steyn, Ceara Knight, Kirsty McGillivray, S’Nenhlanhla Makhubu, Kayla Nogueira, Teal Hogg and Tanika Hoffman all making their way through the early rounds of competition. 

With the bergwind coming through, turning the media tent into a sweatbox, macking A-frames were going off all over the show, from Bogs to Sunrise the ocean was doing a beautiful dance. If Captain Kai had a catchphrase for the day it would have undoubtedly been ‘dreamboat conditions’. 

So, how did our South African contingent fair? Of the 8 Saffas who made it to the quarters, only three emerged on the other side, those being Sarah Baum (so good to see this girl back on home soil) Zoe Steyn and Ceara Knight. And of those 3 it was Sarah who really stood out, winning her heat over fellow countrywomen Ceara and Tanika. 

Zoë Steyn (ZAF) is eliminated from the Women’s Semifinal Heat 1 at the Ballito Pro pres by O’Neill 2019 after a third-place finish at Ballito, South Africa.

With even more delicious finger foods shoveled in my face, the semi’s were greenlit. First up, Zoe Steyn. With the tide pushing, the swell flattened out a touch shifting the banks toward the left, good news for the goofy footers of which there were three. However, with some longer lulls creeping in it made finding two good waves a little more challenging which was ultimately where Zoe came short. Finishing 3rd she just couldn’t find the score she needed to back up her 5.10. Never the less a great weekend of competition for Zoe Steyn who took home the u16 win at the weekend. The competition also marked the end of the regional qualifying series and crowned Zoë Steyn as the 2019 African QS Winner.

The second semifinal may as well have been a final, comprised of Sarah Baum, Ceara Knight, Leilani McGonagle and Pacha Luque-Light. Again it was Sarah Baum winning the heat. She just never looked like losing posting a solid 6.35 and an excellent 8.25.  Game set match, Sarah. It was her rail game, it was just superb ripping into every left that was on offer, slashing everything. Freddy Krugeresque I tell you. Unfortunately, Ceara couldn’t improve on the pair of 4’s she found herself holding on to.

With a quick break, stretch and a rehydrate the athletes were back in the water ready to fight for the QS points on offer. Let’s just pause for a second and just appreciated how great it is having Sarah back home and in the final. The word I think is delightful, it was just delightful. Yes, delightful.

Leilani McGonagle (CRI) places second in the Women’s Final at the Ballito Pro pres by O’Neill 2019 at Ballito, South Africa.

Leilani McGonagle pulled the trigger first in the four-surfer Final against Rachel Presti, Anne Dos Santos and Sarah Baum. The Costa Rican got a quick forehand combo and a low score under her feet in the opening moments to get things underway. Sarah surfing pretty safe for the first half of the final came back strong, with a solid two-hit combination on a right for a 7.50 to finally seal the deal on a career-second QS win and this time on home turf.

Although, nobody announced this, so all us media flies were buzzing around the wrong athlete, straight up kooks. When the scores dropped it was a mad sprint to catch Sarah and give her the praise she deserved every media jockey jostling for pole position. 

Sarah Baum (ZAF) advances through to Women’s Semifinal at the Ballito Pro pres by O’Neill 2019 after Quarterfinal Heat 4 win at Ballito, South Africa.

“I’m on top of the world!” said Baum. “I’m just so happy to be at home with friends and family, to have this event right here and everyone supporting me, I can’t wipe this smile off my face. I was a bit slow in the beginning of the heat, just patiently waiting for those good ones. The waves died off and I had to make do with what I could, but in the end, it paid off.”

Seconds after receiving her trophy a vicious wind pulled through, straight from hell, sending umbrellas flying across the beach threatening to impale anyone in their path! Seriously I almost witnessed two people die. Death by brollie. What a way to go. Speaking about going, that’s it for today. We’ll be back tomorrow, ladies!!


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