When Jordy Smith squeaked into the O’Neill World Cup of Surfing as an alternate, it hardly seemed likely that the 18-year-old South African would make it through more than a few heats. Not because he isn’t capable—Smith’s surfing has been electrifying this North Shore season—but simply because at Sunset, the amount of factors in play make the odds long for anyone who doesn’t have a proven track record there.
Past World Cup winners, current world champions, ex-world champions, multiple Triple Crown winners, ‘CT standouts and hungry WQSers trying for one last push onto the world tour are just the human elements. Big surf, a shifty lineup, howling wind and a whole lot of moving water are nature’s contributions.
Understandably then, anyone’s odds are slim. Ask guys like Dustin Cuizon, Patrick Gudauskas and David Weare, all of whom came achingly close to either qualifying or re-qualifying for the ‘CT at Sunset but fell short. Even Kelly Slater, who bowed out in the Quarters yesterday and who has never won at Sunset, continually struggles to put his act together there.
So it would have been a tough sell to suggest that Smith would march through the elements arrayed against him to breeze into the final. But that’s exactly what he did. And then, when he dropped into his first wave of the heat, amidst a booming and building swell that lit up the point perfectly for the climax of the World Cup and threaded a gaping tube for an 8.67, it looked like the win was his. Against the odds, it looked like the kid was actually going to take down Andy Irons, Joel Parkinson and Fred Patacchia, a trio who’ve all won at Sunset in the past.
But when Parko clicked into high gear and started throwing down 10s, the final rapidly became a battle for second. As it turned out, the odds were indeed long for Smith. But as the only surfer not comboed by Parkinson in the final, the rookie, in his first competitive season on the North Shore, managed second. And, for now, as the circus moves to Pipe, and Andy and Parko continue to battle for the Triple Crown, Smith’s runner-up finish, and the Triple Crown rookie of the year award, which he received yesterday, are what he’ll have to settle for. But they’re a pair of achievements miles beyond what any betting man would have expected from the young South African, and, actually, beyond what he expected from himself.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Smith afterwards. “Just to have all those guys in the final. They’re my favorite surfers, so it was amazing. I’m super stoked to do well in Hawaii, and rookie of the year… I’m overwhelmed.”