Beyrick de Vries of Umhlanga posted the highest heat total in the challenging typhoon-swell conditions for Sunday's opening day of the Urban Research ISA World Surfing Games at Long Beach in Tahara, Japan.
A well established international campaigner, De Vries is a member of the Mercedes-Benz Buffalo City South African surfing team competing against national teams from 42 nations in the event that crowns men's, women's and team champions annually.
De Vries, who last represented South Africa as a junior in New Zealand in 2010, posted a pair of seven-point rides for a two-heat tally of 14.27, one of just a handful of double-digit totals on the day. He was joined by male teammates and fellow heat winners Adin Masencamp of the Strand and David van Zyl of Glenashley in round two of the Qualifying Stream of the double-elimination format used in ISA events.
Team captain Bianca Buitendag of Victoria Bay made full use of her World Tour experience, winning her opening encounter in the women's division with a total of 7.17. A bronze medallist at the corresponding event in France last year, Buitendag explained the significance of the World Surfing Games now that surfing has been accepted as a sport for the 2020 Olympics.
'It's great to get out in the water with 42 other nations,' said Buitendag. 'This is a really unique event that has the power to bring people together from all over the world. This event is another stepping stone to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, so I definitely want to win. We are getting ready for the World Surfing Games when it's an Olympic qualifier next year.'
Multiple event winner Nicole Pallet of La Lucia racked up 5.2 points to finish second in her first matchup of the event and also advanced to round two. But rookie South African team member Zoe Steyn of East London dropped into the cutthroat Repecharge Rounds when she placed third in her round one duel.
The 14-year-old needed a score of just 1.28 to advance but missed out by 0.10 of point and now faces a difficult route to reach the final round of the event. Still, several surfers have won ISA titles after dropping into the Repecharge stream after round one, notably Steyn's compatriot Jordy Smith of Durban who won the ISA men's title in California in 2006.
The task is made more arduous by surfers in the Repercharge Rounds having to compete in nearly twice as many heats, each of which is only 15 minutes long and any result other than first or second sees them sidelined from the event.
The Urban Research ISA World Surfing Games were officially opened by ISA president Fernando Aguerre on Saturday after the signature Parade of Nations through the streets of Tahara and the traditional Sands of World ceremony where delegates from each nation pour sand from their beaches into a custom-made receptacle.
Notable attendees included chief operating officer of Tokyo 2020 Yukihiko Nunomura and the sports director of Tokyo 2020 Koji Murohushi as Aguerre addressed the assembled crowd.
'The 2018 UR ISA World Surfing Games are particularly special because we are in an Olympic cycle. For more than 20 years, we paddled to catch that elusive wave and we finally did it, including surfing in the Tokyo 2020 Games. Also, this edition is historic due to that fact that men and women slots are equal, showing our commitment to gender equality in surfing.'