John Florence. Photo: Glaser
John Florence. Photo: Glaser

The Doherty Report: Year Zero A.K. (After Kelly)

Head-hunting for gold, days for long rail, and life on Tour without Kelly?

They came from Durban, Sydney, Oahu and Santa Cruz.

They came by freighter via Santosha and they lived in the bushes on the point. Lived on a rand a day. They blazed the Poison and looked out every morning and saw a vista similar to the one that greeted us yesterday morning. Almost 50 years later, the wave at J-Bay remains, but if those guys were still here today (they were still in the bushes 10 years ago) and turned around, they'd look at the contest biodome, take a long toke, look down at the blunt, raise their eyebrows, and conclude they'd just landed on Mars.

J-Bay has gone the way of most surf towns with a world-class wave running through it. Back in the early '70s, Cheron Kraak bought a block of land out on the point at Boneyards. The big Afrikaan real estate agent walked around the scrubby block with her, kicked a few stones, and said, "If you don't mind me asking, why would you ever want to live out here?" As he asked with his back turned, a set rolled down the point. Cheron is still out on the point today, although her place has a little company these days. The drone shot shows a sprawling estate that wouldn't look out of place in western Sydney or under the flight path to LAX, all radiating out from the point. The wave built the town, but we live in a world where we can now build the waves and then build the towns around them.

For now, we'll do it in the classic manner, and yesterday was indeed a classic.

Kelly crawling up the rocks the other day just in front of Cheron's place at Boneyards, his foot a bag of bone chips, crystallized a moment that's been a long time coming, a moment Kelly's been fighting for the best part of a decade. Kelly crawling up the rocks with a broken foot brought into immediate focus the reality of life on Tour without him. Sure, he bellyaches about bad backs and sore knees, but underpinning almost three decades of galactic success has been the fact he's somehow escaped major injury. No knee recos. No shoulder surgery. Nothing seriously broke or buckled. The old bones have held together until the other day, when a bunch of them blew apart. Considering what he's put his earth suit through over the years, it's a miracle…you can insert your own jokes here about calf-blood smoothies and oxygen tents. But now here he is, 45, and facing the worst injury of his life. The recovery will be more psychological, you'd reckon, than physical. It's gonna drive him nuts. Instagram winter is coming.

It's been a bad week for bald men in Africa. Up in Mozambique, five bald men were ritually killed in the belief that their heads contained gold. The witchdoctors would love to get ahold of Kelly. While his foot is a mess, there's still gold in his head.

On the best day of waves we've seen on Tour in a few years (Depending on your poison, you might take Tahiti '14), we were about to get a glimpse of life in Year Zero A.K., and you know what? Life goes on.

Did you pick the moment in the first heat when Joan Duru scrambled onto the ski and Joe and Pottz suffered a collective, paralyzing attack of déjà vu, rendering them both mute? But before anyone could reset on the ski or mouth Holy shit, the producers got in their ears and told them Duru was actually using jet ski assist, not escaping some large marine predator. I reckon both Joe and Pottz have thought about that moment two years ago, calling the heat with Mick and the shark every night since it happened with a deep neuroses, thinking about what they should have said…but they locked up again yesterday morning. I liked the black humor from the guy switching in the edit van who zoomed in on a seal during Mick's heat later on, watching, waiting.

As the sets stretched infinitely down into the bay, it was clear that it was going to be a day for long rail — a fact Adriano de Souza realized halfway through his heat, by which stage he was in the braii. Gabby learned: longer rail line, heavier board, the nose no longer looking like it was trying to fly off the roof of his car on the highway.

The first statement heat came from Mick Fanning, although he ran out of waves to make much of one.

Mick's in J-Bay with UFC fighter Luke Rockhold, the pair having become good mates since Mick's star went global after the shark thing. As the top seeds rolled out consecutively, it got me thinking, maybe a little bit of UFC billing would help generate interest in these guys. All I've seen online is Kelly's X-ray and Mayweather and McGregor's press tour, and I dared to dream for just a minute of the WSL touring their stars around, baiting each other brutally. Can you imagine John John and Jordy on stage, Jordy channeling Die Antwoord's Ninja, yelling at John John, "He earns seven figures, and look at him, he's wearing a forking tracksuit!" If the WSL goes pay-per-view, you can bet on it.

The top seeds were beating up on their opponents like the Globetrotters toying with the Washington Generals. John John wasn't quite where he was in Round One, save for his 10, but an exasperated Pottz, pausing for breath at heat’s end, said it simply: "Jeez, he's good." He might be saving some hyperbolic material for Finals Day, but the exhausted honesty was nice.

That was just the start, however, as there were some heavy blades being swung in the middle of the day, none bigger than by the big South African, Big Jordy. As perfect as it was, though, the wave still took some surfing smarts – stay light and high when the wave pulled off the point, drop to the basement when it squared up, hustle down the point, don't fuck around, get tubed on the inside sandbar, hold 10 fingers at the judges.

Jordy made it look easier than it actually was. I don't know which of his 10s was better (his second, maybe), but either way, Peak Jordy was reached at approximately 10:12 AM J-Bay Mean Time. I can only imagine if he starts mowing through heats on Finals Day with a big crowd on the beach. It's gonna be a show. He'll be choreographing some potentially inappropriate claim moves later tonight in readiness.

Julian wasn't far behind. In fact, I'd give his 10 an 11 against both of Jordy's. He snowboarded on some bigger ones outside without losing a lick of speed, and the inside tube section simply bent to his will.

If you'd watched his heat in isolation, you'd put your grandmother's jewelry collection and your grandmother herself on him winning the contest. Only problem is that you also have Mick, John John, Jordy, Owen, and even Conner Coffin who dropped nines in the following after.

This is your post-Kelly world taking shape. Yesterday was AK, AF.