Glassy one metre surf, bright sunshine and slim prospects for waves for the rest of the week decided the organisers of the R1.8 million Billabong Pro to run the Von Zipper Wildcard Trials at Supertubes in Jeffreys Bay today.
Local knowledge played a major role in the tricky conditions and J-Bay resident Sean Holmes waited patiently until the right wave came to him to become was the top scorer, winning the one of the coveted wildcards with a heat total of 14.60 points, just ahead of Sean Payne (St Francis Bay) who also received a wildcard as the highest scoring second place finisher with 14.0 points.
“I’m very stoked as the trials were really hard this year with the best South African talent out in the water, ” commented a grinning Holmes after qualifying for his fourth Billabong Pro. “I was getting my arse kicked out there and needed one wave to open for me so I could do a couple of manoeuvres, and one came for me just before the end, he added about his heat winning 8.67 point ride with 90 seconds remaining on the clock.
“It’s great to come up against the top seeds in the world, and ultimately the Von Zipper Trials makes that possible, Holmes said, adding that the trials were more nerve wracking than the Billabong Pro where the man-on-man format meant each surfer was basically competing against himself.
The opening heats of the VZ Wildcard trials went to Capetonian Damian Fahrenfort who acted like a wave magnet, catching every overhead wave that peeled down the point and using his lanky frame to generate plenty of speed and vertical spray from his manoeuvres.
Fahrenfort left James Wood (Aus), the ISA world U18 champion, needing a daunting 8.17 point ride for victory with Port Elizabeth’s Dylan Stone and Rudy Palmboom (Bluff, KZN) trailing in third and fourth places respectively.
In a wave starved third heat, Hawaiian Ian Walsh, one of three internationals in the trials, emerged with a clear cut victory over reigning SA champion Shane Thorne (Bluff, KZN), Ryan Payne (St Francis Bay) and a disappointed Jordy Smith (Durban).
Smith simply could not buy a wave during the heat and then compounded his frustration by catching one just after the siren sounded to end the heat on which he performed a repertoire of manoeuvres that may very well have been the best ride of the entire trials event.
The draw for the first round of the Billabong Pro sees Fahrenfort coming up against top seed Kelly Slater (USA) and Bruce Irons (Haw) while Payne will meet reigning three-world champ and defending event winner Andy Irons (Haw) and Darren O’Rafferty (Aus).
Holmes, whose battles with Andy Irons have been a feature of the early rounds of the event for the past three years, with Holmes currently 2-1 ahead in their man-on-man match ups, meets 1999 J-Bay champ Joel Parkinson and fellow Australian Tom Whitaker in round one this year.
Walsh takes on 2001 world champ CJ Hobgood (USA) and Jake Patterson (Aus), the 2000 and 2001 Billabong Pro and the only surfer to have won back-to-back events here.
Contest director and big wave legend Mike Parsons (USA) is keen to get the contest underway and predictions of small swell from Wednesday until the weekend should ensure that round one will start early tomorrow morning.
The Billabong Pro is the sixth of 12 events on the 2005 Foster’s Men’s ASP World Championship Tour (WCT), the global circuit of events that determines the annual world surfing champion. The event offers US $270 000 (approximately R1.8 million) in total prize-money, of which $30 000 (R200 000) goes to the winner, making it the most prestigious and certainly the most lucrative surfing tournament to be staged on the African continent annually.
The Billabong Pro is proudly supported by South African Airways; Von Zipper; Kustom; Kouga Municipality; Vodacom, True Technologies; Blackfoot Productions; Dirk Ellis Motors; Canon; Telkom SA; Avis and Bonaqua.