From The Wrong side Of Durban To Gifts On The Top Floor, Jordy Smith Has Come A Long Way. And Now, Some Things Just Come To Him.
JORDY: There was a lot of gang violence and stuff like that in the neighborhood where I grew up. It was pretty shady, like, you couldn’t just walk around after 6 o’clock ‘cause you’d get stabbed or shot or something. It was humbling. I didn’t take anything for granted. If I got a new surfboard or something, I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’ve got to hold onto this thing for life.” But I got into some bad stuff with some bad kids pretty early on. We would break into cars and steal things from people’s houses. Naughty things. We’d sell what we stole and try to make money and just hustle to get to the beach to go surfing. At 8 or 9 years old, you learn pretty fast what happens on the streets.
The phone rings. Jordy looks up, ears perked. A quick pause from the rough side of Durban. He stares at the phone. His girlfriend, Lyndall, answers.
“Hello…hi Vicky…uh-huh…OK…OK, I’ll be right down.” She hangs up.
“Oh my God.” Jordy says. Grinning, his eyebrows at the ceiling.
“Oh calm yourself, it might not be it.” Lyndall says, trying to hide a smirk.
Jordy writhes on the couch.
Lyndall says she’ll be right back and slips out of the room. We’re on the 12th floor of the Rainbow Place Apartments on the Gold Coast of Australia. Jordy lays belly down on an L-shaped couch, facing me. Just outside the sliding glass door the wind blows onshore and the waves crumble and limp toward the sand. A lay day. Jordy settles down from the excitement of the phone call and continues talking about the shitty side of Durban. The side where neighbors convert their garages into speakeasies. Where kids walk around in broad daylight huffing glue. And where the Smith family once went six months eating only Pronutro, a South African porridge.
I remember the day we got caught stealing; my dad gave me the biggest hiding of my life. He sat me down and was like, “You know this is only gonna lead you in one way, so why do you keep doing it? It’s not right.” And then he said, “If you stop doing all this stuff, I promise you I’ll take you to the beach every single afternoon.” He kept his promise, and that’s how I found a whole new bunch of friends. And the two kids that I was running around with before kept on doing it. Now one is in jail for life and the other one was shot dead.
Lyndall returns carrying a brown package about the size of a large shoebox. Lyndall is stunning. Tall, blonde, her eyes a supernatural sapphire. She looks like a model. (She is a model. She’s worked on Levi’s and Jean Paul Gaultier campaigns and likely has more covers than Jordy.) Jordy met her at a horse race a couple of years ago during the peak of his playboy days, and he pursued her immediately. She brushed him. He persisted. She brushed. He persevered. So on and so forth until a month later she relented. “I gave him one date,” she says. “And he made me laugh. He still does.” Today, they’re very much in love and Jordy considers her support and companionship paramount to his success.
“Is it here?” Jordy blurts.
“Well, something is here. I don’t know if it’s it, though,” she says and places the box on the kitchen counter. She pulls a knife from the top drawer and slices the single layer of tape that seals the package. The two cardboard flaps rise like a reflex. Slowly.
“Is that it?!” Jordy squirms and hugs a pillow to his chest. He is a child on Christmas morning.
“I wouldn’t get too excited,” she replies and pulls a T-shirt from the box.
“Ah, crap!” Jordy twists and sits up straight. He’s too excited.
We would have these garage sales and my dad would just sell whatever he could — sheets, blankets, sponsor’s clothes — just so we could afford petrol money to get to the next surf contest. The community helped a lot too, having bake sales and stuff like that.
My dad and I shared clothing. I would always order the double extra-large shirts and size 36 pants. Not only did they fit him but everyone around my neighborhood wore bigger clothes so it didn’t really matter if I wore them too. It was funny though, because the first year I came to the Gold Coast I was ordering these huge sizes and my sponsors were like, “How big is this guy?” I didn’t even know what size I was. [Laughs] My dad would just tell me to order his sizes.
As I got older and was doing competitions, money was a big part of it. It was always, “Frick, we have to get this money or else we’re not going to the next competition.” But as much as it was about money, it was also me wanting to win. All you want to do is just win, win, win and the more you win the more you want to win — you get greedy.
Lyndall pulls things from the box one item at a time. Shirt…shirt…shirt. Jordy can hardly handle it.
“Ah, c’mon,” he complains. But he likes it. It’s a good torture.
Shirt…Jordy leans toward Lyndall. Shirt…shirt…she stops. She looks at Jordy — grins — reaches into the package and like a wooden Russian doll she pulls a smaller box from the original one.
My dad sold his cars and everything that he had so we could go on the ‘QS full time. It was quite a big thing to do because if it didn’t work out, we’d have to start from scratch again. But luckily I got on a roll and won four or five ‘QSs that year and qualified pretty early. After that it was like, “Here we go. Now we are in the driver’s seat and can direct what’s going to happen.”
I felt a lot of pressure at the back end of that year because the media came in and started hitting. That was hard. And I was coming out real cocky, saying, “I’m gonna do it my way and that’s how it’s gonna be.” I didn’t know how to deal with it. It was like, “What is this whole surfing world and who are these people?” The surf industry was new to me. Everyone’s friends and everyone’s cool and everyone’s traveling the world, but for me, where I grew up, it’s like, “You’re not friends with me unless you want something.” And so people would come up to me and say, “Hey, how’s it going? We should go surf later.” And I’d be like, “Who’s this dude? What does he want?” It took awhile. Now a couple of years have gone by and I look back and I must have seemed extremely arrogant and cocky. I don’t think I really was, I was just confident and I didn’t know any different.
Jordy pounds his feet on the ground in excitement and then rushes to the kitchen. To Lyndall. To the package and the smaller box that now sits atop the counter. The small box is no flimsy FedEx cardboard. It is a hard-shelled, plastic case you could drop from the balcony and retrieve the contents, 100 feet below, unharmed.
“This has to be it,” Jordy mumbles as he pries the box apart. “Oh…my…God…” He holds it up for Lyndall to see.
“Wow,” says Lyndall, and her blue eyes swell. “Thank God we have homeowners insurance.”
“That’s 120 grand, right there,” Jordy says, looking at me. He’s in disbelief, smiling.
“I can’t believe they just sent that in the mail,” I say. Because really, wouldn’t this warrant an armored car or something? Jordy tries it on. It looks good, if not a bit unnatural, something you’d expect more from a rapper than a surfer. In fact, Jordy later admits that he sent screenshots from a Lil Wayne video to the company for reference during the piece’s construction.
As Jordy goes to the balcony to examine it under the sunlight, Jordy’s father, Graham Smith, aka G-Force, walks into the apartment.
tionship. I always go to him for the final answer and his input means the most to me. If he says, “You did good today,” I’ll be like, “Sick! I did good.” Or he can say two words to me and it just eats me up because I know I did something wrong.
When we were younger other parents were like, “What the f–k’s going on?” because he’d be on the pier yelling down to me in the water, “What are you doing? You’re letting that kook paddle right past you; f–kin’ paddle.” And I’d be like “You f–kin’ told me to paddle down there now you’re telling me, ‘Paddle here, paddle there,’ f–k you!” [Laughs] I was only 9 or 10 years old. It was funny ‘cause other parents would think he was mad for sure, but it’s just our relationship, I guess.
Before heats he would tell me all the time, “You’re gonna frickin’ smash these guys, Jordy, you’re gonna smash ‘em.” It was a confidence thing, he was building my confidence. Because when you look at somebody that has a lot of confidence, they’re generally the ones that are doing the best. Look at Kelly. Look at Andy. Andy was so confident and that leads to results and the goals you want to achieve. I think that’s what my dad was doing for me, just making sure I was the most confident human being alive. And he still does it. I go down for a heat and he says, “You’re gonna smash these guys, these kooks, you’re better than them all.” [Laughs] He doesn’t mean it, but he’s just doing it to fire me up.
He’s the only person that knows what boxes to tick. He loves it, if he could put on a contest rash vest he would. In one sense I’m not only doing it for myself, I’m doing it for him, too. He didn’t have the opportunities that I’ve had and I think that is one of the greatest things, to be able to give back to him and my family, ‘cause they’ve taken so much time out of their life for me.
Two hours earlier I sat in G-Force’s room, just a couple of doors down from Jordy’s, and we talked about the early days. The sacrifices they made, living off of Jordy’s mother’s teaching salary and the little he brought in from shaping. The strain it put on his wife and daughter who, while both supportive of Jordy, took a backseat in pursuit of surfing greatness. G-Force, the youngest of 15 children, was set on giving his son what he never had, and to make him as successful as possible. How significant is a Jordy Smith world title to G-Force? “It’s super important for me. And I think it’s really important for South Africa.” Is he a soccer dad? He could have been, Jordy was great at soccer, too. But no, G-Force is a surfer dad, and proud of it. Jordy comes inside and shows his father the latest fruit from their years of hard work.
G-Force holds it in his hand and examines it. “Ah, Jords, it’s magic.”
My family has sacrificed a huge amount of their lives for me. My sister especially, ‘cause everything’s been about me for the last 10 years — “Jordy’s doing this, Jordy’s doing that.” So we’ve missed a lot, her tap dancing and gymnastics and stuff like that. And so any way I can, I want to help out. I bought her a little unit and I bought my parents a house and moved them to Umhlanga [a wealthy Durban suburb]. I just want to let them live now and not worry about things ‘cause they’ve worried about too much shit for too long. I want to try and make up for that lost time, which I know I can’t, but I can still try.
A world title? The last two years I’ve had really strong feelings that I’d do well. I’ve had a few speed bumps, but those are natural things you can’t really avoid like injuries, and I was making some rookie mistakes. But this year I definitely have a strong feeling and I’m really confident. My boards are better than I’ve ever felt them. I’m in a really stable relationship. I have everything that I need in place and great people working around me so there’s no reason why I shouldn’t.
I excuse myself, I will let Jordy and Lyndall and G-Force return to their lives now. Jordy is still surfing the contest, the first one of the year. He’ll get third. At Bells he’ll get fifth. By the time you read this magazine you’ll know how he did in Rio and maybe even Fiji. You’ll know if a world title’s actually in the cards this year.
I shake each of their hands but, before I leave, Jordy…can I hold it?
“For sure,” he says, and places it in my hand. It’s exquisite. I tilt it toward the sun, sitting lower in the sky now, and I watch the rays dance off the diamonds like a thousand mini rainbows. How many carats is this? Who knew these kinds of things were delivered in the mail?
“If it doesn’t get cut off my arm, it will be a great thing to keep in the family, eh?” Jordy says.
“Definitely.” I study it for a few more seconds. Holding it in my palm, I lift it up and down a few times. The weight of this thing is bizarre. Really, really heavy. —Taylor Paul