Shark scares, perfect scores come to J-Bay Open
J-Bay had everything
The most dramatic contest of the 2017 WSL Championship Tour this year, the J-Bay Open had everything. There were perfect scores, shark scares and a whole lot more, but when the spray settled, it was Brazil's Filipe Toledo that came out on top. After suffering a leg injury at the beginning of the year, he battled back and put in an inspired performance. "I can't believe it," said Toledo after the win. "J-Bay is always a contest that's been my dream to win. To surf perfect waves like this that we did the entire contest. I've got to thank god for the amazing week that we've had. I've got my entire family here and supporting me. It's unbelievable and I'm speechless."
Toledo has long been considered the best small-wave surfer on the planet, but to put all the pieces together in classic, six-foot J-Bay conditions raises his stature considerably. "This is definitely going to be the competition I remember for forty or fifty years, not just because I won but because of the level of surfing during this whole week," he said. "With J-Bay, the perfect waves and the level of surfing, it was perfect."
Under the radar
Going into the J-Bay Open, there weren't a lot of eyes on Frederico Morais, which was fine by him. Sneaking in under the radar, he was able to beat some of the biggest names in the game en route to a second-place finish. "Surfing against John (Florence), Mick (Fanning), Adriano (de Souza), Gabriel (Medina), Filipe was a crazy week," said Morais. "It is always a big challenge and you have to step up your game when you are against those guys. They are the best surfers in the world and world champs and if you want to beat them you have to be prepared for everything. It is amazing to represent Portugal and be the first Portuguese surfer doing a final on the world tour. Thank you to everyone at home."
Two years after fending off a Great White shark during the final at J-Bay, Mick Fanning once again found himself in the midst of a toothy encounter. This time a shark swam into the lineup during his quarterfinal heat against Medina. Needless to say, he got out of the water as quickly as he could as the contest went on hold.
"Judges and ski drivers saw a shark breach about 100 yards out the back of the lineup so the heat was put on hold and we've made the decision that we're not going to restart the heat again today," saidWSLCommissioner Kieren Perrow. "We'll come back tomorrow and we've still got great waves on tap, so there's no need to put that heat back in the water again today."
On the bright side, Fanning did make the quarters, giving him a much needed boost in the ratings.
On a down note
Fanning wasn't the only time that had a bit of a shocker in South Africa. During a free surf session down the beach at a spot called Boneyards, the 11-time world champion Kelly Slater broke his foot. Limping back up the beach in clear pain, it's believed the injury will sideline him for the next four to six months, potentially ending his historic career on a down note.
First time for everything
While it was Toledo that came away with the win, it was Jordy Smith that stole the show. A two-time winner at J-Bay, he posted a perfect 20-point heat total in his Round 3 match-up with WSLrookieLeonardo Fioravanti. It is only the 10th time the feat has been achieved and the first time anyone has earned a perfect 20 at J-Bay. "It feels absolutely phenomenal," said Smith. "Just be to here at J-Bay where the waves are firing and to have that opportunity is incredible."
Bound to intensify
After J-Bay, Matt Wilkinson still holds onto the gold WSL leader jersey, but it's by the slimmest of margins. Currently less than 1,000 points separate Wilkinson, Smith and Florence. Heading down the back stretch of the season, the race is bound to intensify.
From J-Bay to Tahiti
John John Florence was another standout at J-Bay, and while a quarterfinal finish isn't bad, he knows that to win a world title, he has to win a couple events. From here, the tour will take a break for a few weeks before heading to Tahiti, a favorite stop of John John's.
For those not in the world title race, J-Bay was a chance to let loose. "It doesn't get any better than this," said Connor Coffin said. "I'm so happy to be here and having so much fun, it's a dream come true."