Forty minutes past seven in South Africa, with the sun just rising over the lumpy horizon, the 2015 J-Bay Open got underway in 3- to- 4 foot, slightly onshore Supertubes. It was far from Super and there were definitely no tubes, but with an uncertain forecast for the rest of the waiting period, running the first round was the right call.
When we first got to J-Bay the water temperature was a comfortable 65 degrees. An upwelling on Wednesday saw it plummet into the upper 50s. In the second heat of the morning, Julian Wilson suited up in a short arm 2 mil suit and sent a chill down my spine. His dominating performance, however, would suggest the cold didn’t bother him a bit.
Taj Burrow, meanwhile, struggled — either with the cold, the jumbled surf, or both — in the heat prior. He only managed a pair of 2s and admitted afterwards to hating when he ends up having to surf first thing. Dane Reynolds feels the same way. "I've always had a hard time surfing early," he told me, "I definitely like surfing more in the afternoon when my body is loose. I think everyone knows that [laughs], which is why I was surprised when Adriano [De Souza] wanted to surf our round 3 heat in Fiji late in the day when he could have asked Kieren [Perrow, the WSL commissioner] to call it.”
Dane would end up winning that heat against the current world number one in Fiji. Today, he went up against world number two Filipe Toledo and again, Dane won. He's now straight into the third round with another opportunity to shake up the world title race and simultaneously earn enough points to qualify for the CT full time next year. It's too early to (again) claim Dane as an American hope on tour. It's too early to know if he'll qualify, and if he does, if he'll actually care about winning. But something seems different about Dane. Maybe it's fatherhood. Maybe it's age. Or maybe he's finally come to grips with the fact that he's one of the most talented surfers on this planet and he's ready to give the tour a proper go. We can dream. And hopefully Dane can, too. It sure would be nice to see him back at J-Bay next year.
One surfer we won't see here in 2016 is CJ Hobgood. After 20 years of competing at Jeffreys, this is his last event ever in South Africa. It was fitting, then, that CJ won today over fellow goofies Owen Wright and Kai Otton and put himself straight into the third round. It was CJ's first heat win of the year. "They wanted to chair me up the beach after that one," he quipped. "But I said: Hold off boys, there's still a little more magic where that came from."
CJ would go on to spend the rest of the round spectating from the competitors area, hamming it up with Kelly Slater on all sorts of subjects. Life after tour. Future business ventures. The stock market. Neither seemed too concerned with the conditions at hand. Or anything, really. Both seemed quite content with where they are in their careers. As they should be. At one point Jadson Andre asked Kelly: "Do you actually want to surf in this?" pointing out towards the mixed-up lineup. "Can't we tell them to stop for the day?" Kelly just laughed and shrugged it off. "How do you not want to surf…look at that! It's air wind!" An hour later Kelly paddled out and snagged two 8s to easily win his heat. Kelly hasn't advanced past the quarters in 2015 and he's currently sitting outside of the top 10. Even so, he's not out of the world title hunt just yet, and J-Bay has historically been one of his strongest events.
Tomorrow looks smaller and windier so it's likely that we're off. A new swell fills in Sunday, and though it's not forecasted to be amazing, we should see a cleaner version of J-Bay when this thing starts back up. — Zander Morton