Connor O'Leary made a huge leap toward his dream of CT qualification by taking the QS 10,000 Ballito Pro presented by Billabong on Sunday. In perfect sandbar surf, the Australian goofyfooter came from behind in the Final to get past France's Joan Duru.
The victory earned O'Leary 10,000 precious QS points, vaulting him up to No. 2 on the rankings, where he's now looking solid to make the CT cut that eluded him last year. Duru also made a huge leap, jumping up five spots to No. 3 in the QS rankings.
Interestingly, Ballito had been looking like a naturalfooters' dream all week, with surfers like Jeremy Flores, Beyrick De Vries, Jack Freestone, Ezekiel Lau and Ethan Ewing displaying all manner of front-hand flair throughout the event. Few figured the Final would be a showdown between two goofyfooters.
But both O'Leary and Duru surfed powerfully, utilizing their low centers of gravity to remind the world that the heel is mightier than the toe. They put in devastating backhand displays in the high-performance waves of Ballito.
The Final was a back-and-forth affair. O'Leary, who remained under the radar all week, finished strong to get the edge over the Duru, the more seasoned QS surfer. O'Leary, who's from Cronulla, follows a long line of distinguished goofyfooters from the region, including Mark Occhilupo, Richard ‘Dog' Marsh, Gary Green and Andy King.
While O'Leary moved up a full 13 spots on the QS rankings, several other surfers put the world on notice.
Hawaiian Ezekiel Lau, showing all the power and style of a young Sunny Garcia, blasted every lip he saw this week. He was knocking politely on the qualification door in 2015, but he's looking to make a more forceful entry this year. After taking an impressive win over Jack Freestone in the Quarterfinals, his run was halted by O'Leary, but not before Lau managed to jump 18 spots up the QS ladder, to No. 5.
At the same time, Australia's fresh new face, Ethan Ewing, continued his 2016 blitz. The 17-year-old nabbed an early lead in his Quarterfinal heat with O'Leary, nabbing a 9.73 in the early going, but his dream run came to an end when he was unable to back it up with a second score; O'Leary pounced. According to Jack Freestone, Ewing is very much the real deal. The CT rookie says the kid is a blend of every great Aussie surfer from the past 10 years. Ewing jumped 16 spots to No. 6 on the QS.
Championship Tour surfer Jeremy Flores came up against Duru in the first Semi, and the elder Frenchman surfed valiantly against his compatriot, even attempting a critical Kerrupt Flip towards the end, but goofyfooters ruled this day.
With the victory, the unassuming O'Leary will gain some overdue recognition for his backhand attack, sometimes resembling a young Occy, sometimes getting into an endless bottom-to-top rhythm like Wilko, but always pushing his turns as hard as possible, and never holding back.
Duru, no slouch, comes one step closer to that CT spot that he has been chasing doggedly since 2011.
Beyrick De Vries, the local South African surfer who eliminated Jordy Smith, jumped 86 spots up the rankings to No. 12 with his Quarterfinal finish. Along the way he earned the Monster Energy Wave Of The Week presented by Zigzag, a feat worth another R20k. But before he could even exit the stage he was called back for another award R30k award, for taking the Monster Energy Expression Session presented by Zigzag. The huge forehand rotation he pulled just prior to the Final will go a long way toward getting him to the US Open later this month. Not bad for a day's work.