Alex Ribeiro was crowned men's champion at the Volkswagen SA Open of Surfing pres. by Hurley in Durban on Sunday, leading a near clean sweep of the top eight positions by South American surfers on the final day of the World Surf League (WSL) Qualifying Series (QS) 3,000 rated event.
Ribeiro, 28, defeated fellow Brazilian and good friend Hizunome Bettero in the action-packed final held in one-metre waves and onshore winds that provided the world's best surfers with ideal conditions to boost multiple spectacular aerial manoeuvres.
'It feels so good. Last night I didn't get any sleep, because I was just thinking of this comp, I was so excited to compete,' said Ribeiro after being chaired from the water's edge to the awards area by an ecstatic group of his Brazilian Storm peers. 'I'm stoked to win here and share the final with my friend Hizunome.'
Ribeiro, who spent 2016 on the WSL Championship Tour (CT), is determined to re-qualify for the elite tour that is contested by the world's top 34 ranked surfers annually.
'The points are great here. Now I will be focusing on the super important Ballito and Japan events and hopefully get a win there also,' he commented.
Sunday's final saw both surfers remain extremely busy through-out the 25 minute encounter with Ribeiro's top two scores of an excellent 8.67 and a 7.00 and heat tally of 15.67 proving to good for Bettero, who totalled 11.57 for his best two rides.
'It's great to start the first competition in South Africa like this. Now I have a lot of time to visit some other places in SA and I know there are some good waves here,' said Bettero. 'This was a really important result for me and will give me more confidence for the next competitions like the big event coming up at Ballito. Congrats to Alex and thanks for everyone who organised this comp.'
Both finalists showed big match temperament by producing last minute victories in their respective semifinal encounters. Needing an excellent score to overtake compatriot Victor Bernardo's powerful performance, Ribeiro attempted a high-risk aerial manoeuvre and completed it for an 8.87 and the heat win.
'I'm really happy actually. I know I should probably be sad after losing that heat, but I'm really happy because it's my best result of the year so far,' said Bernardo. 'Getting third in a QS3000 is really good for me. In the beginning of the year I had a really bad injury, I tore my meniscus ligaments in my knee so this is a great comeback for me.
'I just want to thank my sponsors, my family, my girlfriend and my coach who has put a lot of effort and time in to help me. It was great to make a couple of heats with my friends. I'm happy for Alex, he was on the CT last year and would be great to see him back there.'
Bettero produced an even more dramatic comeback to earn his berth in the finale. With 90 seconds remaining and requiring an excellent 8.57 to overtake Miguel Tudela (Peru), the Brazilian delivered an excellent 8.0 and while paddling out caught another wave that he was still riding when the siren sounded.
After a brief wait for the judges decision, the beach erupted when it dropped in as a 6.80 and Bettero advanced to the final.
'It was a nice heat, I was leading and thought maybe Hizunome was going to fall short on his wave and I let that one wave go,' Tudela explained. 'I'm happy for him, he is a really good surfer. I'm sad I lost but still stoked on my best result for the year and now I feel more comfortable for the second half of this year.'
Ribeiro will have his name engraved on the brand new John Whitmore Cup along with junior champions Mateus Herdy of Brazil and Zoe McDougall of Hawaii who were crowned on Friday (Youth Day). McDougall's name will appear twice as she also won the QS1,000 women's event on Saturday.
The trophy is named to honour the immense contribution to the development and growth of the sport in the 1950', '60's and early '70's by the late surfing pioneer and administrator who was referred to as the 'doyen' of South African surfing.
Whitmore's association with Volkswagen saw him own the first Kombi made in South Africa and fittingly the trophy was presented to Ribeiro by his daughter Chele, alongside Nico Fourie from Volkswagen and Ockie Fourie from Hurley.
South Americans dominated the final day action with 10 advancing to the last 16, six to the last eight and all of the top four coming from the either Brazil or Peru.
The WSL Africa members benefited immensely from the experience of competing against and learning from the 135 internationals in a QS3,000 rated event in their home waters. Five locals reached the last 32 and even though none advanced beyond that round, friendships were formed and the latest information exchanged on equipment, training techniques and competition strategies will elevate future levels of professionalism.
Although disappointed at losing earlier than hoped for, Beyrick de Vries, the country's highest ranked QS surfer for the past three years was upbeat about the benefits that the WSL sanctioned City Surf Series and other rated events have produced this year.
'I really would have liked to go further than the round of 32, but it's awesome to see the Durban beachfront pumping again. People are talking about surfing and coming down to the beach and getting autographs from their heroes and that's really cool,' said de Vries. 'From a personal side, I'm not really pleased with my results, but for Durban it's a big win, and the growth in the number of internationally rated events here is awesome.
'Just seeing how the young kids have improved from the first event in April until now. I've noticed so much more maturity in the latest events. Youngsters like Shane Sykes have been doing the QS for two years and attended maybe one event overseas every three months where he learnt something, but then lost momentum as there was nowhere to apply that knowledge here. This year, with events coming back to back, it's awesome to see him surfing incredible heats and looking confident on the waves, looking bold, and that's just one example.'
An outreach programme was conducted at the event by Surfing South Africa (SSA) with the initiative involving twenty four surfers from Trafalgar on the KZN South Coast who recently lost all their equipment when their storage hut was set alight by arsonists.
They were joined by surfers from the Sisonke Surf Club in a Tag Team contest. Eight teams competed in two semis and a final with the top four teams awarded gold, silver, bronze and copper medals.