The predictable conga line of dawn lineups on my Instagram feed was followed by two hours of nothing…which could mean only the one thing.
The best J-Bay devil wind story I ever heard was told by Parko and had Occy as its comic lead. "The boys were having a few beers the night before the contest at Bruce [Irons] and Occ's house on the point. The wind is howling – devil wind 40 knots. The contest isn't going to be on for days. It's the worst wind for J-Bay, you could imagine, and it was howling and looked set in for days. It was like Snapper in October. Even Snips, the contest director, said there was no hope. So the boys have gone, okay, let's cook a braai and get a few beers, it's Friday night. The boys were fired up, fully. Before I left, Occ gets up with a beer in one hand and goes, "I've been coming here 20 fucking years and seen this wind a hundred times. There's not a chance in hell the contest will be on tomorrow!" So I wake up the next morning to go for a freesurf and sure enough the wind is perfect offshore, and the devil wind has blown so hard it's whipped up the sickest northeast windswell. The point was full freight train barrels, and of course the contest is on. I pissed myself laughing. I'd had four beers and could taste it still when I surfed, but those guys had had about a hundred beers and one hour's sleep. Occ's got this giant red wine stain on his shirt and he's got to surf in half an hour. Ever since that day, Bruce and I have given it to him. "Twenty fucking years, ay Occ? Twenty years…"
The only problem with something so flawless as J-Bay is that it doesn't take much to screw it up, and so they waited a couple of hours before feeling safe enough from the bay breeze. Guys were actually losing yesterday and flying home across several hemispheres. They wanted to be sure they didn't get a repeat of that John John and Jordy cheese breeze quarterfinal from last year.
Along with rounds one and four (non-elimination my ass), I also have trouble with round two of the format used on Tour. It might have the delicious threat of sudden death hanging over it, but you end up with favorites surfing not to lose. Backmarkers surfing like they can't win. A round eternally at odds with itself. But yesterday, with J-Bay looking like an Impressionist fresco, none of that even really mattered.
I made the comment the other day that the broken, multi-step, ticky-tacky bottom turn would be the first victim in the judge's crusade for pure surfing here at J-Bay. This being the case, I didn't give Jadson much hope. Thing was, Jadson was one step ahead of them. Maybe he'd stayed up all night papering 6-oz sheets of glass to his board, but yesterday morning, instead of looking like a butterfly caught in a hurricane, he looked smooth and assured off the bottom of his board. All extraneous movement was gone. That hasn't proved easy for any goofy at J-Bay, ever, the one exception being the guy above with the red wine stain on his shirt. Jaddy did get a little help when a blundering boogieboarder shut down Kolohe's winning tube, but totally deserved the win.
The surfing yesterday didn't hit the dizzying heights of the first day, although there were glimpses. Julian Wilson's transitions. Seabass's double barrel. Leo Fioravanti's disbelief he was, like, even here surfing this joint.
But, well, Toledo.
Even now, a few years older, a few pounds heavier, a father, you get drawn to thinking of Phil Toledo as a kid on a beachbreak, an admittedly atomic kid. But yesterday, he was The Man out there. Wearing a red wetsuit and a sporting head full of frosties, you gotta have some game, and from the first wave, it was all there – the drive, the flourish, the read on the wave. And he looks like nobody else out here. It's his breathless small-wave slashing game just with a breath taken between turns. Short arc explosions with beautiful nothings – fades even! – in between. It's a remarkable evolution. If you'd have said three years ago Filipe Toledo would be the dominant surfer on a perfect J-Bay day, you would've been laughed across the Gamtoos, straight outta town. But here he is and now with a walk through into the last 12 and a real chance at the most unlikely J-Bay win ever.
Phil's next opponent, at this point, was sitting on his back verandah at Boneyards with a foot like a haggis.
By now, you'll have seen the X-ray of Kelly's foot and, like me, your first thoughts were, Is this it? Two clean breaks means goodnight J-Bay. Goodnight Tahiti. Trestles on one leg? Certainly an undignified scrap to even requalify. Kelly was able to laugh through it yesterday with the help of some friends and some quality painkillers, but there's going to be a low ache in his foot on the long flight home, and surely, in his psyche. This is not how it was meant to be. Think back to the start of the season and the sense of hope that the GOAT was going to orchestrate something divine, something fitting, a couple of lingering resonant notes left on the breeze as the greatest career of all wound down. It hasn't flowed, he's had to fight with it…and now this.
[Featured Image: Kelly Slater. Photo by van Gysen]