“That’s the best conditions I’ve ever seen”
– Kelly Slater consoling Conner Coffin after his re-surf loss to Jordy Smith.
*I sincerely apologise for the lateness in publishing this piece; my bastard internet providers have some sort of infrastructure issue and are making me wait a week before sending out a technician. This wash-up was published entirely via a combination of mobile hotspot and begging my neighbour for her wifi password (she's a gem!). I know that most of it's irrelevant several days after the event, but I'll be damned if I'm going to write something and then let it rot on my laptop without publishing. Hopefully it's worth the wait*
The thing about expectations is that they can often lead to disappointment. I’m usually guilty of it regarding WSL events: my fantasy team is full of potential, the forecast shows promise, my head swims with electric match-ups, tight title races and phenomenal surfing. I know that I'm setting myself up for the fall most of the time. I know it's best to just keep my expectations down and enjoy the ride. Most of the time.
I don’t care who you are or how lofty you let your hopes get; J-Bay 2017 blew everyone’s collective minds. Where do you even start? Probably with waves that were so good that most surf journalists were thumbing their thesauruses to see if there were any new adjectives remaining. Amazing? No. Staggering? No. Ineffable? Maybe that’s too much. All-time? Done to death.
It wasn’t just the waves that were blowing our minds: How about a zodiac ‘riding’ a 10’ set? Or more perfect 10s being scored than in the previous 2017 contests combined? How about Kelly Slater shattering his foot after killing it in R1? You want more? I’ll throw a shark into Mick’s heat, sprinkle in a bizarre and unprecedented heat re-surf, stir through consistently brilliant surfing and top it off with the greatest individual wave in recent memory. And that’s not even everything.
If J-Bay didn’t surpass your expectations, you’re impossible to please.
For years there have been surfers who have been synonymous with J-Bay, and it’s an esteemed honour given the skills required to surf it well. The long-standing legends of guys like Occy and Curren are inextricably woven with incredible performances at this wave. More recently, Kelly and Joel ruled the line-up, followed by a young local prodigy named Jordy who went back-to-back early in his career. Then the White Lightning struck twice. Three times if it wasn’t for another great white phenomenon. Who would be next?
Filipe was so hot, people barely had the presence of mind to make fun of his ridiculous hair. His rail surfing has come so far over the years, that we’d nearly forgotten how good he was above the lip. That’s OK though, because he didn’t need it 'tricks' to win heats when he was throwing down turns and making barrels like that. Then, when we were all getting into his newfound rhythm, he took the time to remind us of his progressive pedigree again on that wave. If John hadn’t been so damn incredible at Margies, I’d be calling it the performance of the year. Seabass called it, “One of the best feats in surfing history.” Who am I to argue?
I joked to my friends during R2 that Kelly would be stoked to have broken his foot; it gave him plenty of publicity, as well as the opportunity to delay his (failed) title bid until next year for a fresh start. It also meant that he didn’t have to suffer the indignity of losing to Filipe in R3. It was supposed to be a joke; ‘punching up’, because Kelly’s reputation could take it. Looking back though, I wonder. Does anyone actually imagine Kelly winning that heat?
One more thing about Filipe: he travelled to J-Bay with his wife and child, not his father. Could this be his lucky charm? Am I reading too much into things? I for one wouldn't mind if the whistling took a sabbatical.
Frederico! What a giant killer. The rookies this year are scared of nobody, and Freddy made it two from two with rookies making finals.
There were moments when I wasn’t 100% sure that I was digging his style, but then he’d push hard of the bottom, rip the shit out of a section, and I’d forget what it was that I was worrying about. Freddy copped some unusual (and - let’s admit it - generous) scores from the judges, but that ultimately has nothing to do with him really; how the hell can he control what goes on in the judging tower. He just did what he needed: pushed hard, surfed smart, and exceeded everyone’s expectations from the very start. Frederico will be one to watch in future J-Bay contests.
Jordy was the only one who could have stopped Filipe, but in the end it wasn’t even close. Maybe Jordy was burned out from all of the re-surfs. Maybe he peaked too early.
Take nothing away from Jordy; he was incredible throughout. I don’t doubt that he has another J-Bay win in him at some point. The problem seems to be that the talent pool is catching up to him.
Also - and I think I've mentioned this before - someone needs to talk to Jordy about his claims. They are getting out of hand.
It must feel nice to get that monkey off his back. Everyone had thrown their heavy expectations onto Conner’s small frame, but it didn’t show once he set his rail onto the open faces. The expectations were deserved too; he was syncing perfectly with the wave and throwing buckets with each turn. He’s also made a big jump in his bid to requalify, which will hopefully lead to some more confident surfing from him in the coming events.
A massive blow for the champ. I can't help but think it will be a good thing for both him and for surfing in the long run. The 2018 title beckons (and I'm only kidding a little).
Also, can the WSL make hay from Kelly’s injury while the sun shines? His commentary chops are unparalleled, as anyone who listened to his summation of Mick and Gabriel’s QF heat with Rosie can attest. If the WSL could just get him behind the mic for the rest of the season, I think he would drop more insights into professional surfing than we mere mortals could even comprehend.
Is it just me, or have claims just become a part of the game now? It’s not just an impromptu celebration either; surfers are planning pre-meditated routines with which to woo the crowds and judges alike. Salt Baes, double thigh thrusts, finger counts, gambling-debt shout-outs (Mick's '25'), flexes, chest pumps, love hearts, kick-outs and even 10-finger salutes. Surprisingly, Kelly was amongst the claiming action, and he’s traditionally been the chief prosecutor for the claim police. Now he’s saying, “If you get a 10 and you don’t claim, you should pay $100”. What happened?
Maybe I should get on board and enjoy the spectacle, but I can’t bring myself to do it. If it’s not a natural reaction, then you can keep it; I’m here for the surfing, not the theatrics.
Besides, sometimes they can come back to bite you in the ass. Just ask Wiggolly.
It was pretty damn good, don't you think? Mind you, it’s easier when the waves are pumping and the surfing is high-performance.
Shaun T was a great addition, proving himself to be a cross between Barton Lynch and Nostradamus. Turps was solid, with his constant research and unflappable style making a welcome return.
I particularly liked the way the WSL and its commentators handled the minor shark incidents and related delays. They could have hammed it right up in the name of drama, replaying footage from two years ago and milking it for all it was worth. They didn’t. They played it cool, kept it professional and got on with things. Kudos to them.
Look, the right guy generally won each heat (except Italo), and the right surfer definitely won the event, so I guess everything else is secondary. I still have one major bone to pick though:
The tens. Not all of them were 10s. LongTom wrote eloquently about the fact that you can’t quantify the required elements of a 10; you have to feel it. Well, they were feeling it a little too often in my humble opinion. Maybe it was the manufactured passion of the claims, maybe it was the crowd (many of the 10s went to Jordy), or maybe the judges just got caught up in the excitement of seeing perfect waves. Whatever it was, pushing scores doesn’t help anyone.
Save the tens for when you really need them. An 8.5 is still an excellent score.
P.S. You can watch them all here (with bonus subtitles) and make up your own damn minds.
By the Numbers
17.86 – Filipe’s AHS for the event. Second only this season to JJF’s 18.07 at Margaret River.
2 – number of re-surfs required from Jordy. He surfed in 8 heats (or part-heats) for 5th place, whereas Filipe surfed in only 6 heats for the event win (due to Kelly’s R3 withdrawal).
8 – number of perfect 10s thrown out by the judges.
0 – number of contests in the past 2 seasons that are even close to challenging this event as far as waves, surfing and unexpected drama are concerned.
10 – number of perfect heats in the history of the ASP / WSL.
6 – the number of people who have earned them. For the record they run like this: Beschen (1996 – the only 30/30 heat in the sport), Slater (2005), Parko (2008), Flores (2011), Slater (2013), Parko (2013), Wright (2015), Wright (2015), Slater (2016), Smith (2017).
4-6 – number of months until we can hope to see Kelly Slater in a competition jersey
2 - number of years (to the day!) between Fanning’s two interrupted heats at J-Bay because of a shark appearance.
7 – number of WSL rankings places jumped by Filipe after his win, placing him at 7th in the world after only 5 events (due to his ‘storming’ misdemeanour at Brazil and subsequent suspension). It’s interesting to note that, if Filipe had surfed at Fiji and earned a measly 25th, he’d be placed at #6 in the world, 50 points above Joel.
1 - Elimination round heats lost by Mick at this contest since 2010
2 – number of surfers (off the top of my head) who are possibly cheering on Ethan Ewing’s winless season (Ricky Basnett and Alana Blanchard).
If Rio was more about the title race implications than the surfing or waves, then this contest was the perfect antidote.
The final standings barely changed, with Filipe jumping up to 7th and putting himself back into contention (barely, but it’s possible), Adriano dropping from the alpha group, John recovering from his Rio/Fiji mini-slump, and Wilko performing well enough to maintain the yellow.
Gabriel’s 3rd put him back in the top 10, while Kolohe dropped from 9th-14th after his early loss.
Rookies Connor and Frederico are placed 10th and 12th respectively.
There are still 4 full-time tour surfers placed behind Yago Dora (Pupo, Andre, Kerr & Ewing).
Congratulations to the following clubhouse champions:
Surf-Stats WSL group – With heat scores going crazy, JBay was a good contest for those with a solid team. Flounder Pounder cashed in with a 801.46 score, even though he had Kerr anchoring his team. Eddie Utah sits in the clubhouse lead for the season with 3399.19 points, placing him 98th in the world overall.
FS Private Clubhouse (password SS): OliverS scored a massive 1090 at JBay, with 5 of the top 8 surfers in his squad. He placed 36th overall for the event. CC Babcock deserves a mention as clubhouse leader, with a 1051 event score and a current overall ranking of 26th in the world.
Best Possible Team
In Fantasy Surfer, the perfect team was not affordable, Filipe, Freddy, Medina, Julian, John, Wilko, Mick and Jordy costing well over $50M, even at their cheapest values. The best score was attained by imjipper, who had all of the top 5 surfers, plus 8th and 9th for a whopping 1158.
The best possible team in the WSL game surprisingly excluded Mr Perfect, Jordy Smith. The best score obtained in the WSL game for this contest was 862.96 by Indar, who actually managed to pick the perfect 8 surfers (see below). Not a bad score.
Worst Possible Team
Kolohe was owned by nearly a third of all teams, while Kerr was owned by nearly a quarter. All others were less than 20%, including Connor at just 1% (he will drop back into Tier B for Tahiti…)
Best wave: Are you really asking me spell it out for you? Or were you just looking for the hyperlink? Here it is again; it’s worth rewatching.
Best heat: The Frederico vs. John QF had the highest wave average of the contest (9.61). The scores were a little inflated in my mind, but it was one of the few big heats that had some see-sawing of the lead to build up tension. Most of the others were won clearly by someone who was on fire.
Biggest disappointment: Not many. I was confused about the decision to run two R2 heats in poor waves when they had an amazing forecast ahead of them. Dale and Michael must have been pissed to miss the best of the swell.
Best Manoeuvre: There were many, many good turns. Just as there were some excellent barrels. Filipe has to get this one though, but I can't decide which oop is more deserving; his first was much cleaner, but his second was the second one on the same wave. Plus it was higher. I know that Toledo already got recognised for this in the 'best wave' category, but this manoeuvre could possibly change the way surfers approach heats at J-Bay in the future.
Most impressive: Filipe!
That's it for now, but the metrics for Tahiti will be up in a week or two.
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