With the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay utlizing a couple of fabulous surf days at the beginning of the waiting period, it was a weekend off for the world's best men, a time to drink in the balmy weather, indulge in a bit of traditional African sightseeing, and ready oneself for the business end of the contest.
Some great showings over the first couple of rounds, some highly anticipated clashes living up to expectation, the top seeds all advancing, yet a few shock second round results adding to the intrigue of this years J-Bay edition. Although wearing the red singlet, Adriano de Souza was anything but the favourite heading into his first round clash with Jordy Smith, however the Brazilian title aspirant continued his great form in a tight tussle.
Andy and Bruce Irons don't often meet this early, and along with Oz rookie Daniel Ross, they delivered an entertaining spat. Bruce was certain he'd lost and chucked his jersey at Andy while he headed for a hot shower, Andy having to suffer the indignity of not only returning little bro's singlet, but having to tell the waiting media that the heat winner had left the building. To his credit the three times ASP World Champion conducted this side act with great humour, the sign of a man at ease with himself and his surroundings.
The heat of the round, of the event so far, was Taylor Knox, Joel Parkinson and Nic Muscroft. The surfing reflected the pulse the guys experienced. Joel and Nic surfed well, but Taylor blew doors in this heat, his best J-Bay display since finaling with Kelly Slater in the inaugural championship in '96. In the free surfing enjoyed on a great practise day, Taylor was the standout and carried the form into the Main Event. A perfect 10 by past winner Parko, featuring four sublime barrells, bridged the gap, but Taylor's 19.70 was in the great beyond.
Reigning ASP World Champion Mick Fanning and lethal rookie Dane Reynolds waged a beautiful war. Fanning lifting as only he can to take the red jersey, while Hawaiian wildcard Granger Larson would be better for the experience. I could see why a lot of crew would include Dane Reynolds in their Billabong Pro JBay fantasy mix, the guy looks born to surf the place.
Last years finalists, Taj Burrow and Kelly Slater, surfed within themselves to post comfortable wins, while South Africa's Royden Bryson and Hawaii's Fred Patacchia showcased the kind of form that could carry them deep into proceedings. The first seven heats of Round 2 went with the red jersey, the surf offering up clean as a whistle 3-5' Supers, more then enough for the lads to strut their stuff.
In an inspired performance, Durbanite Travis Logie upset the wagon by blasting Timmy Reyes out of contention. The goofy-footer definitely hit and held the high notes in this encounter, while Timmy, whose silky style is taylor-made for the fabled J-Bay, never quite got into top gear. Dayyan Neve and Tiago Pires laid down one of the best combined performances. This year, Tiago has consistently put in some big scoring heats, only to be pipped by an opponent lifting their game to a new plateau, in this case, the ever improving Neve.
The boilover was the Heitor Alves/Dane Reynolds showdown. Although Reynolds drew hoots for his on-rail slashes, it was the Brazilian goofy-footer who put in the whole enchilada, combining impeccable wave choice and positioning with a sustained vertical backhand attack. It was nearly unthinkable that Dane Reynolds was out, he looks like a winner out here, but that's exactly what went down.
The Aussie grinder Mick Campbell put in a bellringer to oust Damien Hobgood in their all backside stoush, the ever-dangerous Campbell looking to turn a so far lackluster campaign around at the midway point of the tour. Luke Munro underlined a scratchy heat with one scintillating ride, netting a 9.33 to put an end to Ben Dunn's African campaign. And to round out the day ,Jordy Smith racked up the rounds highest, an 18.60, to put Brazilan veteran Neco Padaratz to the sword.
It's a good thing the guys have some recovery time on their hands, for a glance down, the Round 3 heat draw sees some wild encounters. It will be like the plains of the Sarengeti come game day, the weakened and the stragglers will be picked off by the big cats, while the injured and frail will become prey to the scavenging hyenas and jackals.
The weather is just too nice for winter, but with a cold front rounding the Cape as I write, we are drying the steamers and booties for a chilly onslaught of waves and weather. The water warmed several degrees overnight, and this should assist performance levels. When Billabong founder Gordon Merchant arrived 3 weeks ago he reported the water a frigid 11 degrees Celsius.
As the main party paddled out through the key hole a week ago, it was up to a reasonable 15 degrees, but I tell ya brother, a couple hours under that exposure not only makes the feet and hands non-functionable, but it shrinks the nether regions horribly. So with the water getting up to about 18 degrees it will allow the lower back to perform without the need for anti-freeze.
This is such a special place, not only for the wave but just the whole J-Bay deal. Put it this way, in the glamour stakes, as far as pointbreaks go, J-Bay is a looker, and although it is a hell journey from pretty much anywhere, one reeling line down the Supers racetrack is worth three anywhere velse.
So yeah, here we sit, eyes scanning the southern horizon for the first sign of an impending cold front, a good portion of the Top 16 still way in contention, the guys readying for what will surely be a battle of attrition. There are many scenarios and connotations, the Billabong Pro J-Bay representing a pivotal point of the 2008 Dream Tour.
For the ASP World Title aspirants, it is a must to come out of here with a winning dividend, for the middle order it is make or break as far as either comfortable commitment to the ASP World Tour exclusively, or making the hard decision to enter the fray on the energy-sapping ASP WQS as it gears up for the torrid next phase. And of course, for the tail-enders, it is an opportunity to knock out a big gun and establish a reputation and some much needed mental momentum.
Do not miss this next webcast exchange. It may only be the third round but there are some absolute gems amongst the pack, and if J-Bay turns it on, this will be a spectacle.
All the best to the last 32 warriors.
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