Bronte Macaulay from Australia and Cole Houshmand from the United States emerged as the victors in an intense battle at the Ballito Pro presented by O’Neill, Stop No. 3 on the World Surf League (WSL) Challenger Series (CS). The event witnessed a thrilling week of competition, with Macaulay and Houshmand overcoming a highly competitive field and challenging conditions to secure their well-deserved victories.
Vahine Fierro from France and Frederico Morais from Portugal showcased impressive performances and finished as runners-up in their respective divisions. Their commendable results in Ballito provide a significant boost to their campaigns in the Challenger Series as they head into the second half of the season.
The final showdown between Fierro and Macaulay was an all goofy-foot battle, with both surfers demonstrating exceptional backhand skills that had impressed throughout the week. Macaulay took an early lead, swiftly capitalizing on the waves and leaving Fierro to wait for the set waves. Macaulay’s precision, power, and flair in executing maneuvers set her apart, as she effortlessly released the fins and showered the lineup with spray from her turns. With her several years of experience over Fierro, the Western Australian dominated the competition in Ballito, including an excellent score of 8.50 out of a possible 10. This outstanding performance secured her best result on the CS this year and propelled her to the fifth position in the rankings.
Expressing her joy, Macaulay exclaimed, “I’m so stoked, I’m really happy. I was kind of unsure about the year, not having a lot of points, so this feels amazing. I’ve been really inspired watching the boys on their backhand, but I’m just stoked to get the win. To all my family and friends back home, thanks for the support. Vahine is a teammate and she was surfing really well, she’s in that younger generation of surfers and I think women’s surfing is in a really good place right now.
Fierro, who climbed to fourth place in the rankings ahead of Macaulay, expressed her satisfaction with her performance, saying, “Coming out of Olympic qualification, it was such a high for me that I wanted to make sure I stay grounded and also get a result here. I’m so happy to have made my first Final ever. The waves were so good, and a big congratulations to Bronte, she deserves her win, and I’m excited for the rest of the year.”
In the Men’s Final, Houshmand from the USA secured back-to-back victories on the Challenger Series, clinching the title with a buzzer-beater wave against Morais from Portugal. Houshmand’s remarkable achievement propelled him to the top spot in the CS rankings, just in time for the US Open, an event close to his home in San Clemente.
Overwhelmed by his victory, Houshmand admitted, “I’m speechless right now; that was the scariest heat I’ve had this whole event. Luckily that wave came, but congrats to Frederico; he was ripping the whole event. It’s been amazing. Shoutout to everyone back home, Kolohe Andino and the 2% boys, Kade Matson who’s been ripping, it’s been a real support crew.”
The key to success in the final was patience, as minimal set waves made their way to the competitors. Houshmand stuck to his strategy of waiting for the best waves, but with ten-minute lulls in between, it was Morais who seemed to control the heat. However, Houshmand finally found an excellent wall to work with, unleashing his powerful backhand for a score of 6.33. Not to be outdone, Morais secured a 7.33 by selecting a cleaner, bigger wave and adding variety to his turns, going vertical into the lip, executing a smooth turn by drawing his rail out, and finishing with a flourish by throwing out his fins. As the clock ticked down, Houshmand paddled into a lump requiring a 4.34 score, and with nerves of steel, he managed to deliver two impressive turns and maintain his balance to earn a 4.67. Morais caught a wave behind him, but unfortunately, it arrived after the buzzer and did not count toward his total score.
Reflecting on the outcome, Morais commented, “I’m super stoked, but it’s bittersweet. I had the lead until the end, and I thought my last wave would count. I never thought it was going to be a heat decided by three and four-point scores, but it is what it is. You have to consider the big picture, and it’s a significant, important step for me to get back on tour, so I’m happy.”
The Ballito Pro presented by O’Neill delivered thrilling performances from top surfers worldwide, showcasing their skills and determination in the challenging waves. With Macaulay and Houshmand emerging as the victors, the event solidified their positions in the rankings and set the stage for more exciting competitions in the future.