"It's a good time to be doing well," muses Jordy Smith. "My contract's coming up really soon."
Jordy is 18 years old and is, in two words, blowing up. Last month he made the final of the O'Neill World Cup, premier world tour qualifying event at the spot to beat most spots, Sunset Beach. Last weekend he was crowned the new ASP world junior champion.
Maybe his success could be expected – especially by anyone who's seen Jordy's rhythmic, powerful style, with its flashes of ultramodern aerial flair. But this is a win with a difference. Jordy lives in Durban, South Africa, and his latest victory brings new focus to an interesting little surfing question: Why are the Saffers going crazy?
Check out the current surge of young South Africans onto the world surfing scene. Two of his countrymen, Ricky Basnett and Royden Bryson, and one countrygirl, Rosy Hodge, have qualified for the WCT in 2007, joining established WCT pros Greg Emslie. Travis Logie and Heather Clark. When you add David Weare and Jordy not far behind, you get South Africa's strongest ever presence at pro surfing's elite level.
You can guess one reason from Jordy's first comment – money. "There's more South Africans traveling now – the Rand (SA currency) is still super weak, but we're getting better sponsorship backing," he says. "But still the ones who do travel need to make the most of every trip. They're hungry. They can't afford to just take it easy."
In some ways South Africa's surf culture looks like other nations', just radically smaller; Jordy thinks about a quarter the size of Australia's, which would make it about a tenth that of the US's. "The difference in South Africa is that we all know each other," he says. "I surf with a bunch of guys: Travis Logie, Damo Fahrenfort, Antonio Bordoletto, we call each other every morning early and decide where to go surf, then we all go there at the same time. Usually New Pier in Durban. We watch each other and try to do better – it's more competitive that way."
He has a 16-year-old sister, Casey, who was South Africa's best junior girl till she just dropped surfing in a heap a couple of years back. "I think I pushed her a little too much," says Jordy, a bit wonderingly – like, how could you GIVE UP surfing? "She won her second national title, then said, 'Ah, I think I'm going to stop surfing now.' I went, oh yeah, sure. But next day she didn't go surfing, then the next week she didn't, then it was a whole year!"
South Africa's living surf legends – 1977 world champ Shaun Tomson and 1989 champ Martin Potter – are still remembered and renowned in their hometown. Jordy's met them both: "They're two very different people," he diplomatically describes the gentlemanly Tomson and the wild-boy Pottz.
Jordy relies also on the great educator of today's remote-location surf supergrommets, perhaps the single biggest reason why kids are erupting all over the world now: the DVD. "I have every single movie that's been released the past couple years and I watch them all the time." Mostly he pays attention to "the two big guys" – Slater and Irons.