BALLITO, KwaZulu-Natal - Tanner Gudauskas (California, USA) celebrated the biggest victory of his professional surfing career, taking out the ASP WQS 6-Star Mr Price Pro Ballito today.
Gudauskas defeated Australian James "Taipan" Wood (Aus), rocketing to World No. 6 on the ASP World Qualifying Series and pocketing R159 000 (US$20 000) as well as 2500 ASP WQS ratings points.
“I just can’t believe it, this is a personal best for me!” said Gudauskas. “Every night this week I’ve been going to bed dreaming about winning this contest and putting myself up there where Pat (Tanner’s brother and ASP WQS No. 10 Patrick Gudauskas) was at, and it came through today so I’m fired up!”
Attacking the 30-minute Final with unprecedented determination, Gudauskas rode every lump of swell, snatching an early heat lead with a 6.83 (out of 10.00) for some clean backhand turns, riding out in an explosion of whitewater off his final maneuver.
While his opponent Wood opted to play the patience game, catching his first wave at the 11 minute mark, Gudauskas projected fast out of his top turns, maintaining speed and power in the wind-affected waves to score a 6.67 and further extend his lead over the Australian, who was left looking for a 7.67.
“I just got into this mindset that when the surf got worse, I was going to get better and as the tide came up and it got less consistent, I just got more fired up and more pissed off,” said Gudauskas. “It’s crazy because I can hardly remember half of it now, but my priority exchange worked out and it all came together and I’m just super fired up!”
Cloaked in stars and stripes of the American flag, an emotional Gudauskas was chaired up the beach by his older brother Dane and quarterfinalist Dylan Graves (Pri), surrounded by a sea of adoring fans and media crew all wanting a piece of the newly-crowned champ.
“When I came out of the water and saw my brothers and some of my friends all standing on the beach cheering for me I was almost in tears,” said Gudauskas. “We have a really strong crew from America right now and we’re all pushing as hard as we can to bust down the door and make the ASP World Tour and I think this year could be the year.”
Guduaskas is now the highest rated American surfer on the ASP WQS tour, surpassing both ASP WQS No. 7 Brett Simpson and his older brother ASP WQS No. 10 Patrick Gudauskas.
Mr Price Pro Ballito runner-up James Wood joined Gudauskas in posting his career best result, taking home R79 000 ($10 000) as well as a serious boost of confidence.
“This second place is amazing, it’s the best I have ever done,” said Wood. “Obviously my strategy wasn’t the best, but this result is going to help a lot. I didn’t expect to do this well and I just ended up on a good roll so I’m stoked and just want to keep the momentum going into the next few contests.”
Finishing in equal third positions were aerial maestros Australians Wade Goodall and Matt Wilkinson, who kept spectators glued to the action with their radical near perfect 9-point rides this morning.
Both surfers earned R40 000 (US$ 5000) each as well as 1625 ratings points Wilkinson jumping to ASP WQS No. 12.
Netting good to excellent scores all week, including a near perfect 9.17 (out of 10) in his Quarterfinal match-up against Dylan Graves (PRI), Wilkinson was relegated into second place by an in-form Wood during their Semifinal, the Australian needing only a 6.61 to advance.
“If I had known I was going to come here and get third I would have been stoked, but to need a 6 to make a final is incredibly disappointing because I’ve caught a hundred sixes this week,” said Wilkinson. “It’s disappointing but I’m still very happy with this result.”
Sponsored free surfer and new school innovator Wade Goodall suffered a similar Semifinal loss. After posting a perfect 9.33 during the Quarterfinals against South African Klee Strachan, Goodall lost confidence against Gudauskas in the Semis. Failing to land any of his trademark air reverses, Goodall slipping into a combination situation (needing a combination of two-scoring rides) as Gudauskas racked up scores advancing into the Final.
“I’m amped with this result,” said Goodall. “I got really nervous in that heat and my legs kept giving way on many of my airs. I hardly ever actually have to think that I have to make an air going into it, but still I’m stoked with how things went today.”
ASP WQS No. 1 Daniel Ross (Aus) took home an equal fifth place finish, joining fellow Quarterfinalists Dylan Graves (Pri), Klee Strachan (Zaf) and Nathan Hedge (Aus), all of whom earned R23 000 ($2950).
South African Klee Strachan (Winkelspruit) was the top placed local surfer in the event, finishing in fifth place after being defeated by Goodall in the semifinals. Strachan also went on to win the Best Wave award during the Glodina Expression Session, pocketing an extra R5000 in cash.
“Obviously you want to make it to the final and I was thinking maybe I can do this and was feeling confident in every heat,” said Strachan. “Unfortunately things didn’t go my way this morning, I didn’t get the waves but to get a result like this in my first year on the WQS is amazing, it’s the biggest confidence boost of my life.”
Australian Stuart Kennedy took out the Best Maneuver award while and Adam Melling (Aus) won the Best Aerial during the Glodina Expression Session both surfers pocketing R5000 for their efforts.
The 2009 Mr Price Pro Balllito saw ten action packed days of world-class surfing unfold at the event’s new home of KwaDukuza. Ballito welcomed the world’s best with unbelievable surf, showcasing everything from perfect three meter (8-10ft) barrels to small wind affected beach break conditions.
Tanner Gudauskas (USA) 13.50 def James Taipan Wood (AUS) 8.73
Heat 1: James Taipan Wood (AUS) 13.77 def Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 12.17
Heat 2: Tanner Gudauskas (USA) 13.33 def Wade Goodall (AUS) 7.70