ASP World Title Races and Rebirth at the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay
JEFFREYS BAY, South Africa - The Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay, Stop No. 4 of 10 on the 2010 ASP World Tour, is poised to be one for the ages as the best assemblage of surfing talent in history prepare to do battle on one of the world's greatest canvases, the iconic righthanders of Jeffreys Bay.
After three events this season, the ASP World Tour journeys to South Africa amidst a red-hot ASP World Title race as well as the cutthroat, mid-year field reduction to the ASP Top 32.
Mick Fanning (AUS), 29, reigning ASP World Champion, has had an uncharacteristically slow start to the season, collecting two 9ths and a Runner Up, putting him in the ASP World No. 4 spot. A former two-time winner of the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay (2002, 2006), Fanning will look to regain some magic in South Africa in order to rein in former nine-time ASP World Champion and current ASP World No. 1 Kelly Slater (USA), 38.
"This time last year, I was in fourth position so it's early days," Fanning said. "I'll approach the remainder of the year as if the race is still wide open, which it is. Kelly's had two solid results so hopefully I can narrow the gap with a strong finish at J-Bay."
The big concern for all the top seeds at Jeffreys is a lethal crop of rookies intensified by the threat of a mid-year cutoff. Following the fifth event of the season, the ASP Top 45 will be reduced to the Top 32 and Jeffreys is one of the last opportunities for surfers to vault themselves inside the bubble.
"There's definitely been a more aggressive approach from the lower seeds this year and you can't go into any heat holding back." Fanning said. "With the cut off approaching I'd say we're going to see even more desperation and intensity from those outside the Top 32. It's going to be a challenge but exciting to watch."
While an event favorite himself, Fanning is very aware of all the threats that exist at the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay.
"Jordy Smith is going to be dangerous," Fanning said. "He's the only surfer on tour that has made the final series of each event in 2010. With that kind of momentum and confidence going into J-Bay, a wave he knows so well, he'll be one to keep an eye on. Kelly (Slater) is always a standout at J-Bay. His Round 2 heat at Jeffreys last year is still in my head. He was throwing away two nine-point rides. Parko (Joel Parkinson) is the other major threat. He's had an average start compared to last year and J-Bay was the last event he won. I've been surfing with him quite a bit and he's back to his best."
Jordy Smith (ZAF), 22, current ASP World No. 2, is having a career-best start in 2010, collecting a Runner-Up finish on the Gold Coast before Equal 5ths at Bells and in Brazil.
"I've definitely felt better this year than previous years," Smith said. "I've kind of found my feet and it's working out great. I think the main thing I've done differently is probably just the face that I've been more relaxed going into heats not worrying about who I've got in my heat or anything like that. I'm just going out there and surfing and having fun."
Although in an unfamiliar position, Smith is poised and ready to strike at the ASP World Title ratings' lead, and the powerful natural-footer is calm about the remainder of the year.
"I guess sitting at second in the world is always good," Smith said. "I always look at it (the ASP World Title Race) as a boxing match, and we've got 10 rounds and have only been through the first three and we've got plenty to go. Coming into J-Bay, that's always cool. I'll be up against a wildcard early on, but hopefully I can get a good result here and keep it going throughout the year."
Clearly the danger man at Jeffreys Bay, Smith has arguably logged in more time at the icy pointbreak than any of the Top 45, making him the man to beat once competition kicks off.
"The Billabong contest at J-Bay is definitely one of my favorites," Smith said. "To be in front of my home crowd and get to surf J-Bay with only three guys out, I couldn't ask for much more. I definitely feel good about the wave. I've been going there since I was 7-years old. Every time I arrive there is a good feeling. You smell the aloe in the air it's just a really awesome place. It's a really fast righthand pointbreak which I love, and it has incredible barrel sections. I hope we get waves like last year."
Joel Parkinson (AUS), 29, 2009 ASP World Runner-Up and current ASP World No. 8, hasn't enjoyed the same juggernaut start in 2010 as he did last season, but the stylish natural-footer is positive heading into the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay.
"Eighth place right now is inconsequential," Parkinson said. "There's over two-thirds of the season left to run, and if I surf well and surf well consistently, then I will be moving up the ratings. That's in my hands, not in anyone else's. Whoever's in front of me is irrelevant."
A two-time winner of the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay (2009, and in 1999 as a wildcard), Parkinson's rapport with Jeffreys Bay borders on supernatural. When the wave is on, the Gold Coast is as dangerous as any, applying a beautiful forehand approach to the running righthanders.
"I think without any doubt that J-Bay brings out the best in me and in my surfing," Parkinson said. "It gives me reason to be motivated and excited, and, above all else it, allows me to realize how lucky we are, to be able to go back there year after year. It's such an incredible corner of the world and I've had some really special days out there. The wave itself, well, you couldn't design a righthand point much better. There are long barrel sections, big open walls, and it really tests all aspects of your surfing. The waves we had for the contest last year were some of the best I've ever surfed in my time on the tour."
Another top seed heading into Jeffreys Bay, Parkinson is likely to draw a lower seed early in competition, and with the mid-year cutoff looming, is aware that things could get intense.
"Every heat is important," Parkinson said. "My approach has always been the same expect your opponent to come with their A game and make sure you are ready to deal with them, what they bring and what the conditions will provide and all should be good. Coming off a long break like we just had, I expect everyone to be ready to go. The guys looking at the cut off will be hungry. The guys at the top will be keen to maintain their lead. The guys a little way back will be looking to make a move. Everyone has got their own motivation. When you look at it like this J-Bay is going to be epic."
The waiting period for the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay will on Friday, July 15 and run through July 25, 2010.