Day 5: Waves Pump As Pressure Intensifies At Ballito Pro presented by O’Neill

  • CS Rankings Leader Willcox Puts On a Clinic, Drops 10-Point Ride
  • Fitzgibbons, Fierro Claim First Quarterfinal Spots
  • Next Call: Friday, 7 July at 7:00 a.m. SAST (12 hours ahead…7pm Thursday nite HI Time)
Pictured: Jacob Willcox (AUS) scored the first 10-point ride of the event at the Ballito Pro pres. by O’Neill Credit: © WSL/McGregor

BALLITO, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa (Thursday, 6 July 2023) – The Ballito Pro presented by O’Neill, Stop No. 3 on the World Surf League (WSL) Challenger Series (CS), continued today in renewed clean conditions and ran through ten heats to complete the Men’s Round of 16 and the first two heats of the Women’s Round of 16.

Pressure rose up a notch as competition moved into the all-important two-surfer heats where big points are on the line and each heat win gets you one step closer to the ultimate goal of qualifying for the Championship Tour.

Rankings Leader Willcox Puts On a Clinic, Drops 10-Point Ride

The day’s opening matchup was one for the ages with CS rankings leader Jacob Willcox (AUS) taking on former Final 5 contender Morgan Cibilic (AUS) in firing surf. Both surfers opened with a strong display of rail surfing and aggressive maneuvers in the lip, Willcox taking the nod with an excellent 8.67 (out of a possible 10) over Cibilic’s 8.17.

The former Championship Tour (CT) competitor later found a bomb and scored the first barrel of the day, a clean tube and exit with a closeout turn and posted an incredible 8.90 to take a solid lead. But Willcox, not to be outshined, roamed the lineup and found his own tubular set and engaged in a deeper, more technical backhand barrel and punctuated the ride with a powerful and late reentry to drop the first 10-point ride of the event.

“That was probably the funnest heat of my life,” Willcox said. “I thought Morgan had me there in the last five minutes. I could see that wave coming from way out the beach and thought hopefully it gets here. I kind of surprised myself when I came out of that barrel because I was sliding a bit too much. I thought I made a few mistakes in that heat and gave Morgan the priority a couple times taking a bad wave but I was just lucky that wave came to me in the end.”

Pictured: Alejo Muniz (BRA) feeling right at home at the Ballito Pro pres. by O’Neill Credit: © WSL/Tostee

Tour Veterans Trust Advancing Spots into Quarters

The next couple of heats somewhat paled in comparison to the flurry of excellence displayed in the first battle. Kade Matson (USA) and Frederico Morais (POR) surfed smart heats and took the advancing spots into the Quarters.

The all-regular foot battle between tour veteran Alejo Muniz (BRA) and CT hopeful Jake Marshall (USA) brought back fireworks as the long rights peeled down the Ballito lineup. Fighting within the same repertoire of drawn-out carves and powerful snaps, both surfers posted high-7 scores in the first ten minutes to give fans a super tight match. The Californian got the nod early on with a 7.77 but Muniz kept on building house and eventually posted a 7.93 and 7.50 combination of scores to move into the Quarters.

“Jake’s an amazing surfer and a very good friend of mine so I was frothing so much to get in the water,” Muniz said. “Our heat got so many good waves it wasn’t that hard to pick the right ones. I love this place and these waves so much so I’m super happy to be here and this is a great result for me already after early losses in the first two events of the season.”

Frenchman Joan Duru ended the hopes of the last South African male surfer in the event, Daniel Emslie (RSA), with a strong display of his signature backhand attack on the rights of Ballito. Rising talents Nolan Rapoza (USA), Cole Houshmand (USA) and Kauli Vaast (FRA) claimed the final three advancing spots into the Quarters.

Pictured: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) goes to the air for a spot in the Quarterfinals at the Ballito Pro pres. by O’Neill  Credit: © WSL/Tostee
Fitzgibbons, Fierro Claim First Quarterfinal Spots

Former runner-up in the world Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) left nothing to chance in her Round of 16 matchup with Luana Silva (BRA) as both surfers continue to chase a return to the Championship Tour. With a good hold on the lead and minutes on the clock, the Australian further solidified her position by going to the air under her opponent’s priority for a 6.83 and the win.

“It’s all about riding the highs and lows and just enjoying it,” Fitzgibbons said. “I get so much enjoyment from my process, showing up everyday. The last two mornings I thought I might be in the first heat, so I’ve been waking up at 4:30 and start warming up as if I was a grom again. I think that’s what it’s all about, showing up against this generation, they give that inspiration to me and I feed off that youthful energy.”

The day’s final heat was a clash of youth and ambition between former World Junior Champion Vahine Fierro (FRA) and Brazilian youngster Laura Raupp (BRA). After a relatively slow start score-wise, the Tahitian went all out on a long right to post an excellent 8.50 and apply pressure on her young opponent. Raupp answered with powerful snaps but couldn’t quite match Fierro’s flair and the future Olympian Fierro advanced into the Quarters for the second time this season.

“Coming into one-on-one heats, it’s the best surfers so you have to show your best surfing,” Fierro said. “The waves looked really bad before my heat, but then it pushed for our entire heat and we just got wave after wave. It was a really good battle, we both got high scores, it was nice!”

Competition was halted by the incoming tide and increasing onshore winds after the second heat of the women’s Round of 16. The next call will be on Friday, 7 July at 7:00 a.m. SAST for a possible 7:35 a.m. start.

2023 Ballito Pro presented by O’Neill Men’s Round of 16 Results:
HEAT 1: Jacob Willcox (AUS) 18.67 DEF. Morgan Cibilic (AUS) 17.07
HEAT 2: Kade Matson (USA) 12.44 DEF. Lucca Mesinas (PER) 10.33
HEAT 3: Frederico Morais (POR) 11.73 DEF. George Pittar (AUS) 5.23
HEAT 4: Alejo Muniz (BRA) 15.43 DEF. Jake Marshall (USA) 14.10
HEAT 5: Joan Duru (FRA) 14.37 DEF. Daniel Emslie (RSA) 10.67
HEAT 6: Nolan Rapoza (USA) 13.90 DEF. Jackson Baker (AUS) 10.10
HEAT 7: Cole Houshmand (USA) 13.50 DEF. Joel Vaughan (AUS) 13.33
HEAT 8: Kauli Vaast (FRA) 14.43 DEF. Dimitri Poulos (USA) 12.632023 Ballito Pro presented by O’Neill Men’s Quarterfinal Matchups:
HEAT 1: Jacob Willcox (AUS) vs. Kade Matson (USA)
HEAT 2: Frederico Morais (POR) vs. Alejo Muniz (BRA)
HEAT 3: Joan Duru (FRA) vs. Nolan Rapoza (USA)
HEAT 4: Cole Houshmand (USA) vs. Kauli Vaast (FRA)2023 Ballito Pro presented by O’Neill Women’s Round of 16 Results:
HEAT 1: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 12.83 DEF. Luana Silva (BRA) 10.90
HEAT 2: Vahine Fierro (FRA) 14.93 DEF. Laura Raupp (BRA) 13.67

2023 Ballito Pro presented by O’Neill Women’s Remaining Round of 16 Matchups:
HEAT 3: Nadia Erostarbe (EUK) vs. Sophie McCulloch (AUS)
HEAT 4: Bella Kenworthy (USA) vs. Zahli Kelly (AUS)
HEAT 5: Isabella Nichols (AUS) vs. Kirra Pinkerton (USA)
HEAT 6: Sarah Baum (RSA) vs. Ellie Harrison (AUS)
HEAT 7: Bronte Macaulay (AUS) vs. Nanaho Tsuzuki (JPN)
HEAT 8: Eweleiula Wong (HAW) vs. Alyssa Spencer (USA)

Watch LIVE: Ballito Pro Presented By O’Neill
The Ballito Pro Presented By O’Neill holds a competition window through Sunday, July 9, 2023. The competition will be broadcast LIVE on, the WSL’s YouTube channel, and the free WSL app. Check out more ways to watch from the WSL’s broadcast partners.

The Ballito Pro pres. by O’Neill is proudly supported by O’Neill, KwaDukuza Municipality, Surfing South Africa, SMG Rocks, Monster Energy, North Coast Courier, Coco de Mer and Fiamma Grill.

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