Day one, round one of the J-Bay Open kicked off in the clutches of an icy winter wind and solid, unexpectedly clean conditions that improved throughout the day. The chill factor increased and backed off alternating between raging winds and heavy showers, sunshine and regular glass offs, punctuating a long day of action packed surfing.
By Gina Smith
After last year’s infamous showdown with that shark in the final, Mick Fanning was always going to be a crowd favorite, especially with his vocal decision to return to J-Bay. Suffice to say, he had already won the hearts of the people before paddling out to win the first heat of the day. That old ankle injury lark, didn’t seem to have much impact on his performance, or he just strapped it real good.
One of the most anticipated heats was the match up between current world number one Matt Wilkinson, rookie Davey Cathels and the much loved local Steven ‘Steezy’ Sawyer, who earned himself a wildcard spot into the J-Bay Open after blitzing the RVCA Super Trial in June.
However, the elements did not line up in his favour, the heat was run over the dead low tide resulting in patchy and soft conditions. It was Davey Cathels who snagged the win with a pair of high five point rides. Strong winds and rain did not deter the local support crew, despite being bedridden the day before with high fever, Steven had flashes of brilliance with vertical backhand cracks that mirrored some of Wilko’s moves, in the tricky conditions. As round one is non-elimination, Steven and Wilko were to be given another shot, against each other in round two.
Former J-Bay Open wildcard and local, Dylan Lightfoot shared some insights: “The advice I would give Steven is to be patient for the set waves as those are getting the best scores today. Try not to be erratic and just make like it’s any other day at Supers.”
A packed stretch of beach is a tell tale sign that Kelly Slater is in the water, and this year was no different. Slater weaved through two barrels in the last minute of the heat to clinch an exciting win over Filipe Toledo and Matt Banting.
Despite a heavy downpour, the crowd remained for another SA favourite, Jordy Smith who brought it back for the Saffa’s with, what looked like an easy Round One victory – looking powerful and pretty unshakable in the blustery conditions.
As soggy fans navigated the puddles in their Ugg Boots excellent scores continued to drop in near perfect waves. Julian Wilson was looking like the man to beat after dropping an 18.77 heat total. Just as the first round was coming to an end, an official call was made to jump straight into the first four heats of the round two, elimination stage.
The First Round Two match up was a deja vu affair pitching the backhands of current World Championship leader Matt Wilkinson up against the local favorite, Steven Sawyer. Humans young and old crept out of warm homes and offices to huddle up in the rain, once again, to support the local talent. This time for keeps. It was a relatively frustrating heat with both goofy footers going big but unable to complete many maneuvers, resulting in a 4.10 average heat score. After many collective cheers and sighs it was the experience of the current world number one, Matt Wilko, who took the win, breaking local hearts just a little.
The early afternoon saw Supertubes looking picture perfect with a double rainbow stretching over the glassy ocean. Filipe Toledo was in a dangerous position before pulling off a massive grab rail air reverse in the offshore wind, backing it up with some beautiful rail work to prove that he is a force to be reckoned with on the reeling right handers.
The wind, size, speed, power and shape of the waves changed continuously throughout the day, keeping both the surfers and spectators on their toes and setting the 2016 J-Bay Open off on the right foot.
Tune in tomorrow for more updates from the J-Bay Pro. Shakas!
*For more action from the J-Bay Open visit www.coronaextra.co.za/wsl/