Let’s start with a bit of context. Before the event kicked off in those pearler conditions yesterday, the waves in J-Bay had been super fun and contestable (in the 3-4 foot range with sunny skies) for the opening three days of the waiting period. And with some serious waves forecast for late Sunday and throughout the next week, our cup runneth over with swell for this year’s Corona Open J-Bay event. The powers held off running the event in those first three days to try, in the words of WSL veteran Greg Emslie, “ensure that every heat is run in perfect 6 foot surf.”
And that’s exactly what we got when round 1 kicked off yesterday. But the Saffas ended up with the Sunday blues this morning. The event was called on in relatively slow, stormy conditions that failed to live up to the hype and in retrospect Round 2 should have probably stayed on hold for the quality surf we’ve all been expecting. But them’s the breaks. Jordy Smith and Dale Staples took the stage with Jordy out maneuvering the in-form local in the conditions on offer. Everyone knows Dale would have fared much better in more solid Supers. The kind of conditions that, fingers crossed, are still coming.
Next up, Mikey Feb squared up with current ratings leader Matt Wilkinson and went toe to toe for the win. And while the partisans (that’s all of us, bru) bemoan the average conditions and float arguments that Mikey was underscored on his 7.1 (the highest wave score of the heat), truth is if the wildcard is going to beat the incumbent, he’s going to have to smash the win, with no doubt or grey area in the mix. A hard feat in the slow conditions.
But that’s how it went down. Stiff upper lip. Let’s focus on the silver linings. There was no perceptible class gap between ol’ Mr Wilko and the new kid, Mikey Feb. Wilko played the heat better. Banked two good scores and held the priority. Mikey will learn and grow from this. The future is smiling and winking at us…
But let’s talk about the rise of a new South African surfing star. Yes Mikey’s been round town a while, and yes he’s well garnished surfer winning SA comps left right and centre. But winning a comp in South Africa is an entirely different task to even making two heats in a QS 10 000. Surfing a South African comp and winning it, is like being that cool guy playing first team rugby at a small high school in a small town. Like playing 1st team Rugby at a co-ed school in Kokstad. But entering a QS 10 000 is like obtaining a bachelor of arts degree at UCT and then tryna enter the job market in New York City. Where once you were a smart, articulate, well thought out 1st class citizen drinking almond milk, you now realise that there are a million kids smarter, more articulate and conform to some new diet developed by a mad scientist who resides in a commune in Berlin. You’re a nobody. And becoming a somebody in a big city doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, and it takes a ton of hard work. Where once everybody praised your good ideas, your ‘good’ ideas are a foul scent tossed aside. And you’re forced to acclimatize. But once that acclimatization occurs, it seems like it happened overnight. Nobody was around to see all the 1st round losses at QS events you traveled half way across the globe to compete in subsequently laying rest to the majority of your year’s travel budget. Acclimatization takes time, and nobody’s an overnight success.
The Ballito Pro presented by Billabong and the Corona Open J-Bay has seen the Rise of Mikey February. Too often we see wildcards compete on the CT that have no business there. Completely and utterly outclassed by their CT counterparts. But Mikey belonged. Not for a second did his surfing seem irrelevant, and Wilko was probably sweating in his duel against the Freestyle Feb, not cause of some sorta new thermal technology that Rip Curl have developed, but rather cause Mikey’s surfing is relevant on the world stage.