Sean Doherty: J-Bay in a Post John John World

10 Jul 2019 3 Share

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer

Photo: WSL/Sloane

Photo: WSL/Sloane


2019 Corona Open J-Bay, Day 1/Seeding Round

Day one on the bricks, my bru. Head high fizzers on a warm aloe breeze. Dumb seeding round wasting a valuable J-Bay commodity.

Do you reckon John was watching at home in Hawaii?

I don’t. With a freshly filleted knee he’ll be lounge-ridden but will resist the urge to watch J-Bay. It’s not even the waves or the ratings points he’s missing out on. He’s started rehabbing, and also started the process of detaching. The two are linked for him. The tour sucks energy from him, a classic introvert response, so John will stay a million miles from the tour, won’t watch a heat until it comes time to re-join it next year. He’ll be watching documentaries on the bee apocalypse instead.

The first heat looked promising for the day… and for the rest for the season. Gabby paddled out and looked more than lively. He sniffs a kill. He’s got ground to make up but at this point of every year he has ground to make up. Ten minutes in and the  backhand seemed a distinct advantage. It ran counterintuitive, but it created critical points while the regulars just raced. Joan Duru… is the Frenchman the most underappreciated surfer on this tour? His occasionally murderous visage – and backhand – was there in the first heat of the contest. Gabby took the win.

Italo backed it up. Again, the backhand created points on the wave to hit. Italo, like Gabby, had the hustle to keep it going down the line. He faceplanted onto the bricks. He checked his lips were still there but he remained swarthily handsome. Did Rosie swoon post-heat? By heat two we hadn’t had a single mention of “the bricks”, maybe a directive from WSL HQ. Cut the patois. No bricks, no brus, no braais.

The WSL’s origin stories are finally getting there. Taking Adriano back to the favela he grew up in was the closest thing to genuine human drama the content department has come up with yet. Unfortunately, of course, it came three-and-a-half years after his world title, and in the middle of an underwhelming return to the tour after a knee injury. Adriano actually fell, which says enough. Can you believe he won J-Bay? He did, won it with a bottom turn. Barton called Adriano’s world title the most important title ever won, as it emboldened everybody else on tour. A John win on freak talent kills hope in the rank and file. An Adriano win gives everyone a sniff. Adriano’s win emancipated everyone only for superstars to win every year since.

“Kanoa Igarashi: World Champion.” Is there any verisimilitude in this statement? Stranger things have happened. He doesn’t seem to be running short on confidence right now. His post-heater felt like a J-Pop clip. He’s top five right now. Next year – with surfing making its debut at the Tokyo Olympics – will be his to own; win, lose or draw. Here at J-Bay he has Snake Paterson in his corner… two-time winner and deadlier than the black mamba out here. He’s seeing an Igarashi/Gilmore podium and working back from there.

Jordy sauntered down from Cheron Kraak’s place and moseyed out through the keyhole. Cheron’s place is beautifully appointed, wood-panelled floor to ceiling, a well-stocked wine cellar, overlooking the top of the point. Cheron bought the block in 1970. When she said she’d take it, the Afrikaan real estate agent looked at her puzzled – “But why would you want to live out here?” – as a six foot set rolled down the point below.

Jordy missed the showdown on the swell here two days ago, and that might work in his favour. The less they talk about him at this event the better he will go. The unbearable weight of being Jordy at J-Bay doesn’t seem quite as heavy this year. Jordy himself doesn’t seem quite as heavy. He’s a tall shadow right now and needs to move through the draw like that. Day one and all and we want to go easy on the African clichés, but he just needs to be the lion waiting at the waterhole. He might be beyond pressure here but imagine for a minute Jordy leading the ratings going into Pipe.

The wind had threatened to round the corner during Jordy’s win, but by Kolohe’s heat it had swung back offshore and zipping down the point uniformly. It was the Freshwater Pro with salt… and sharks. The new nominal ratings leader – the only one on two legs – Kolohe finds himself in an interesting predicament. In the race to anoint Phil or Gabby or maybe even Jordy as the world champ elect, Kolohe – unless he wins J-Bay – will get left behind. He has an advantage though over all of them… an ability to win ugly. Sure, he hasn’t actually won an event, but I’d take Kolohe to win a swag of heats if France and Portugal turn to chum. Hawaii and Tahiti also do it more often than you think. He don’t win purdy and he won today by surfing onto dry bricks, as Joe finally called ‘em.

Electric Phil Toledo looked in third gear and yet chalked nines and eights. Supers was looking shreddable proper-like by this stage, and Phil lived up to his billing as the two-time defending champion. Slice and dice down the point, despite the diminishing swell actually working against him. Imagine two years ago saying that Toledo would be disadvantaged by a small swell.

From this point the round dragged. The sets slowed. The energy in the booth waned. J Turp and M Pot called M Rod and R Cal. They sat there and shot the breeze with injury replacement Frederico Morais for what felt like a week.

They were of course saving the talent for Kelly’s heat and on cue in rolled Sal Masakela. Sal brought the energy and also the obvious point that Kelly had indeed done the maths with Olympic qualification now that Johnny Florence was out of the game. The top two Americans go to the Olympics. With Johnny out, guess who is now the second-rated American?

And on cue, the point came to life for Kelly. Suddenly there was wave after wave and Kelly seemed to be on most of them. He rode short and jammed in the pocket. The other two guys however – Seabass and Jeremy – rode longer rails and drove top-to-bottom. Kelly got lucky. He gifted Jeremy priority, but Jeremy couldn’t find a mid-three. J-Bay is the start of Kelly’s Tokyo run – J-Bay into Tahiti into his own wave tub – and all he needed to do today was to get started.

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