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SA’s Baker retains number one surfing ranking

South African big-wave charger Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker powered his way through three heats of 10-metre plus surf to finish third in the Pe’ahi Challenge in Hawaii on Sunday.

With his top finish, Baker retained his number one spot in the 2016-17 World Surf League (WSL) Big Wave Tour (BWT) rankings.

Baker, the 2013 BWT champion and winner of the Puerto Escondido Challenge in Mexico in June, stayed busy in the inconsistent rising swell in his Round 1 heat where he finished second to advance to the semi-finals. There the Durbanite again caught the first ride of the 50-minute encounter but had to wait until just four minutes from the end before finding a backup ride that saw him grab third place and a berth in the one-hour final.

Maui local and defending Pe’ahi Challenge champion Billy Kemper (HAW) and Baker shared a wave to open up the final, with Baker getting the best of the exchange. Greg Long (USA) followed quickly on the second wave of the set and posted an excellent 8.83, which he backed up on one of the bigger waves of the day with another excellent ride for 8.93.

Kemper pulled into a barrel at the halfway mark to earn the only perfect 10-point ride of the event, taking the lead from Long and pushing Baker into third place, despite an excellent 8-point ride from the South African for a late drop. A final attempt from Nic Lamb (USA) moved him up into fourth place over Pedro Calado (BRA) and Will Skudin (USA) who finished in fifth and sixth places respectively.

Kemper held the lead through the remainder of the final and closed with a 9.07 for pulling into a deep pit which sealed his second consecutive win at Pe’ahi. The result sees Kemper move up nine places to No 4 in the BWT rankings while Baker retains the lead with only two possible events remaining in the 2016-17 season.

“I’ve trained so hard for the last eight weeks,” Kemper said. “I’m over the moon and I just surfed with a few of my heroes and pioneers of this sport – Greg (Long) and Twiggy (Baker). I didn’t know I was winning, so I just went for it on that last wave. This is what I live for right here. I’ve put a lot of work and effort into this and thank you to everyone that’s ever supported me. Thanks again for putting on such a wonderful event.”

Pe’ahi local Paige Alms (HAW) has become the first-ever WSL Women’s Big Wave Tour Champion after taking a commanding victory in the final of the Pe’ahi Challenge.

The world’s best female big-wave surfers, including South Africa’s Tammy-Lee Smith (Salt Rock), made history as 12 individuals took to the water to compete in a WSL Big Wave Tour event for the first time ever and contest for the maiden women’s title in heavy conditions at the break aptly known as Jaws.

The final saw Alms, Justine Dupont (FRA) and Felicity Palmateer (AUS) take to the water for a 60-minute match-up. Keala Kennelly (HAW), Emily Erickson (HAW) and Laura Enever (AUS) had also qualified for the final after placing in the top three in their respective Round 1 heats but were unable to compete after sustaining injuries in the powerful surf.

Dupont led the charge, opening her account with a 3.17 but Alms found an incredible wave and took off with perfect positioning to be rewarded with 6.00 and then added another impressive ride for a 7.83, one of the day’s top scores. Dupont tried to fight back but ended runner-up with Palmateer taking third place.

“What a blessing to be out there with just a couple of girls, that was very special,” said Alms. “The support feels so good and it’s so cool to have all my friends here and do this at home. This has been a dream to have an event for the women here. To have an empty lineup is a real blessing, win or lose. A few of the girls got hurt and I’m bummed that they weren’t out there with us but they’ll be back for more. I hope we get more opportunities, so thank you WSL, this was really big.”

Smith, who received a late call-up as a wildcard for the event and was surfing on Maui for the first time, caught one wave as the wind-affected waves made her Round 1 heat extremely challenging. But it wasn’t enough to advance to the final and she was eliminated from the competition.

– African News Agency (ANA)

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