Top Seeds Assert Dominance at Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay
It may not have been epic J/Bay, however the quality of the field on the last day of the Billabong Pro J/Bay made for absorbing showdowns. Only the set waves were big enough to break far enough off the rocks to provide a performance platform, but with a hundred metre run to link ones repertoire together, there was ample stage for the world’s best to strut their stuff at this fabled surfing icon.
Contest Director Mike Parsons had several quandaries on a day to day basis. For pretty much a week, since the demise of that great 3 day swell at the beginning of the waiting period, Supers spluttered along. There was hardly a day when at some point, usually around low to half tide, that the place did not cough up a little streak of baby nuggets, the odd 3-4’ gem reeling down the point.
But there was never quite enough to go around, even with only two guys out over 35 minutes. J/Bay was in some sense playing the role of tormentor, it was clear there were enough waves to be contestable but one-sided heats would be the order of the day.
When Snips gave the green light on Saturday 21st, he had a tall order in front of him. 14 heats plus a Final, all at minimum 35 minutes. It was mid winter J/Bay, the days were short, and there was absolutely no guarantee for Sunday, the last day of the waiting period. And it hung in there perfectly all day.
True, there were skunkings along the way, Super’s fluctuating between pulses and long lulls, but the guys who positioned themselves chess-like generally prevailed. The most critical positioning was at the start of the heat. Being a point break, holding down inside positioning gave a guy the first option, and this counted for something in the more intermittent periods.
Yet there was much more subtlety then simply grabbing and clinging to inside positioning. Mick Fanning and Kelly Slater were strategies in contrast. While Taj, Willsy, Andy and Dean deployed the inside positioning tactic, Mick and Kelly did the opposite, conceding pole position, though for vastly different reasons. Mick seemed to have an approach based on his self belief that he could out surf any opponent.
To this end he elected to not sit and wait but begin surfing at the earliest opportunity, backing himself to get in excess of 7.5 on even a mediocre wave, then applying the pressure with sound priority management as the heat progressed.
After Andy Irons and Dean Morrison won out in consecutive wave depleted heats, utilizing inside positioning to establish leads against frustrated backhand campaigns by Fred Pattachia and Bobby Martinez, Kelly gave up inside positioning to Luke Stedman.
Now Luke had founded his successes on nailing the best waves in all his preceding heats, but my take on this was that Kelly had surmised that Luke was not going to give it up, that even if he paddled him right up the point he would have doggedly held it, which may have resulted in being out of position for a rare bombing set.
It was an uncanny tactic, in fact the waves did come for Luke, who also got himself in good priority rhythm, but each time there was a better one behind for the 8 times World Champion.
It was awesome to see most of the top seeds in Quarter Final action. With the exception of Damien Hobgood, who, like most of the goofy footers, suffered heavily in conditions that made it virtually impossible to post a decent score due to severe limitations on backhand repertoire, the top seeds prevailed.
The surfing was insane. Parko led off with an ace. He had racked up opening 9+ scores in each of his heats, the Quarter against Taj no exception. It looked like covered wagons for Parko, but when he passed on a medium sized one mid heat Taj struck, whipping it into a 9.34 then overhauling the former Billabong Pro J/Bay champion down the stretch.
Mick Fanning and Danny Wills were both surfing at their best, Willsy on what was for sure a magic board and Mick just simply the stand-out surfer in free surfing around the event. Fanning again elected to simply surf, but one could see he had turned up the gas by being a wee bit more selective against the dangerous Wills. It came down to a jinking paddle for the first wave of a set, Wills with priority being forced to consider whether to go, then pulling back, only to see a wide bomb catch him slightly out of position.
Andy could not get the big engine firing against Dean Morrison. Deano nailed a couple early ones outside priority, Andy hung tough, but in a slow heat Irons was forced out of the fox-hole, scrambling late and coming up short against the shrewd Morrison, who was quietly progressing through to the Semi’s.
Kelly put on quite a show, posting a sensational 19.23 to see off a slick Adriano de Souza, who himself outscored two of the winning Quarter Finalists. Nobody thought it possible to outstrip Taj Burrow’s 18.33 offering to record the tournaments top score, but in 3-4’ Super’s Kelly’s competitive streak kicked into top gear.
Again Mick looked to have Taj’s number, but in a reverse of last years Final Taj triumphed with an emphatic 17.67. Kelly and Dean surfed a tit for tat encounter, not reaching great levels but very competitive, a Slater 8 being the difference in the final tally. It was kind of a one-sided Final.
Everyone was anticipating a typical Kelly surge at any moment, but it did not materialize and he remained locked with Tom Curren on career victories, two immortals locked in a timeless struggle for the all time win record. The ratings tell an impressive story, Taj actually winning after dropping the worst two results, and Kelly, Andy, Joel and Damo all still in the hunt at the halfway mark.
But Mick Fannings’s 1,3,2,3,3 record is imposing on several fronts. At this point there is plenty for all contenders to get their teeth into, but the most contrasting stat is that Mick has five Top 3 finishes and a full complement of throwaways, whereas Taj has no get out of jail cards remaining, and must make each post a winner if he is to grind back Fanning’s incremental superiority.
We have a fascinating race on. Well done on another great event, the buzz continues on the Foster’s ASP World Tour. Speaking of big events, the world’s biggest in terms of logistics, infrastructure, field and spectatorship in underway at Huntington Beach, California. The 2007 Honda US Open brings the full cross section of ASP disciplines into play in Surf City USA.
Hundreds of pro surfers have made their way to HB in search of media glory in front of the hub of the global surf industry. With significant media coverage in everything from mainstream press such as The Orange County Register to international surf mags and ASP’s global media diffusion, this event is definitely high profile.
It may not offer as many points as some of the Prime events in exotic locations, however many of the world’s greatest surfers, including a fair smattering of Top 10 pros, will be turning out for their sponsors in this big daddy of WQS arenas.
The gallery, which can swell to 80,000 on the weekend, provide a pressure cooker atmosphere, the Southside HB Pier turning into a vocal amphitheatre as they delight on scrutinizing the wizardry of what the best exponents can do with wave and surfboard in 2007.