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McDougall does the double at SA Open of Surfing

McDougall

Hawaiian teenager Zoe McDougall was crowned women’s champion at the Volkswagen SA Open of Surfing, presented by Hurley, at Dairy Beach in Durban on Saturday, winning the closely-fought final held in contestable shoulder-high waves.

McDougall, who also won the junior women’s title on Friday, completed a rare World Surf League (WSL) double triumph by securing back-to-back victories at the same event, an honour that will be recorded for posterity on the inaugural John Whitmore Cup.

The day’s drama-filled final was not decided until after the final siren had sounded as athletes and spectators waited for the results of the last exchange.

Lucy Callister took the lead in the 20-minute encounter with a 6.87 on her first ride and sat patiently waiting for her next wave, while fellow Australian Sophia Fulton and McDougall stayed busy searching for waves with scoring potential. It was Fulton who took the lead and held it for the majority of the heat as she built her total with mid-range scores.

McDougall moved into contention for the title with six minutes remaining, finding a long right heading towards the pier that she tore apart for a 6.67. Needing just 4.50 for the lead, the young Hawaiian dissected a rare left with two searing hacks to overtake Fulton.

Ariane Ochoa stayed in the mix, but could not complete the big finishes needed to earn higher scores. A flurry of waves in the last 90 seconds saw all four competitors post rides, but after careful deliberation by the judges, none of the scores altered the outcome, and McDougall celebrated on the beach.

‘I’m so stoked, it’s the perfect way to end the week and I couldn’t have asked for anything better,’ said McDougall. ‘I was kind of struggling in this final and was pretty tired from competing all day today and all day yesterday.

‘This was probably my worst heat of the week, but I tried to pull it together and luckily, it was close, but I got there. Now I’m just going to cruise and have some fun, maybe surf some different spots before going to Cape Town.’

Crystal Hulett of St Francis Bay was the highest-placed South African in the women’s event, finishing equal fifth overall, after placing third behind Ochoa and Callister in their semi-final encounter.

‘I really love this competition and I’m very grateful for it, so it’s a nice way to get myself going for the next comp,’ said Hulett. ‘It was tough to find good sections and you had to be very particular in what you do and how you do it. It was very hard, but it was good.’

Earlier on Saturday the top seeds in the QS3,000 men’s event produced a teaching clinic in high-performance beach break surfing as they upped the ante in the Round of 64. Only 32 now remain in contention to chase the lion’s share of the US-$75,000 (about R975,000) prize purse and the coveted 3,000 points awarded to the winner.

The heat of the day was the all-Brazilian showdown, where former Championship Tour (CT) fixture and current Qualifying Series (QS) No 16, Alejo Muniz, got off to a sensational start with a pair of excellent eight point rides. But Michael Rodrigues bettered that by closing the heat with rides of 8.70 and 9.0 to grab the day’s highest total, 17.70 out of 20, and advance to the final day alongside Muniz.

‘The heat before mine was really slow, so my strategy was to try and get two quick waves and I was lucky to get two very good waves in the beginning,’ said Muniz. ‘I didn’t know Michael (Rodrigues) had got even better scores, but I’m really happy to make my first round. South Africa has a special place in my heart, since the beginning it’s always helped me with my campaign and my qualification, so I like to be here. I’ve been here for a week already, it’s been amazing, I’ve been surfing fun waves every day, so it’s good times.’

There were plenty of upsets, with top seed Bino Lopes (BRA), highly-ranked Australians Davey Cathels and Cooper Chapman, Japan’s Hiroto Ohhara and Frenchman Jorgann Couzinet all failing to advance from heats.

Local wildcards Jordy Maree and current WSL Africa junior men’s rankings leader Jake Elkington, both from Kommetjie, ousted higher-ranked opponents to book their places in the last 32, as did 16-year-old Brazilian Mateus Herdy, whose phenomenal aerial antics have made him a firm favourite with local fans since arriving in the country two weeks ago.

South Africa’s Michael February, currently No 19 on the QS leaderboard, confidently won his heat to continue the streak that has seen the 24-year-old Capetonian reach four finals and claim three titles in the country this year.

‘It was tough only starting on the second last day of the competition with all the internationals, so it’s a bit different to the recent local events,’ said February. ‘I’m using the same board I won the Corona Durban Surf Pro on, so I have some confidence coming from that. It’s definitely a positive having 3,000 points at stake. I’ve had a nice run this year, but I need a bigger event to improve, so I’m amped to channel everything from the last events into this one.’

February will be joined by fellow South Africans Beyrick de Vries, Dylan Lightfoot and the wildcards. all trying to ensure that the SA Open of Surfing title stays in the country, along with the bulk of the prize money and points.

Picture of McDougall courtesy of WSL/Thurtell


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