Worlds Top Rated Surfers Head To J-Bay
ASP Int’l (Monday, July 8) The world’s top 46 rated surfers are making theirway to Jeffreys Bay, South Africa, for the next stop on the 2002 Associationof Surfing Professionals (ASP) World Championship Tour (WCT). Home of the legendary ‘Supertubes’ surf break; the US$250,000 Billabong Pro is one ofthe most highly anticipated events of the year.
Scheduled for July 16 through 26, the Billabong Pro has an 11-day waiting period to ensure optimum conditions for the four full days required. The fifth of 12 WCT events on what has been dubbed the ‘Dream Tour’ by surfers, media, and general public for the exotic venues and quality surf breaks itvisits.
After phenomenal waves during the during the opening two WCT’s in Australia,and on the reefs of Tahiti and Fiji, all attention will be on the swellcharts surrounding Jeffreys Bay in the hope great surf continues for another epic showdown.
Current ratings leader Andy Irons (Haw) holds a commanding position courtesy of his back-to-back victories at Bells Beach Australia, and then atTeahupoo, Tahiti. The Hawaiian, who will celebrate his 24th birthday during the Billabong Pro, is more than 600 points ahead of Florida’s Cory Lopez(25), who in turn is only 70 points ahead of older brother Shea (28).
“I’m really looking forward to going to J-Bay,” explained Irons. “I’veordered a lot of short boards and worked with (shaper) Eric Arakawa onmaking some good point boards. I’ve been training at home and gettingpsyched and recharged.
“J-Bay is a world class break for sure,” he added. “The waters a little coldfor my taste, but other than that it’s a really good right. Super highperformance, long and perfect.”
Veteran campaigner Luke Egan (32), a permanent fixture on the WCT since itwas introduced in 1992, is Australia’s highest rated surfer in fourth spot.He’s followed by reigning world champ C.J. Hobgood (22), another of theFloridian contingent that have made such an impact in the top echelons ofthe sport in the last decade.
Egan, a sentimental favourite amongst the locals at J-Bay since winning ablock of land there years ago, has even more connection to the venue than most.
“There’s so many good stops now on the ASP world tour and the way we’ve had swell the last few months is tremendous,” explained Egan. “Hopefully it can keep going when we are in J-Bay and keep up the incredible events. I love the place and won a block of land there in the Dream Sequence a lot of years ago, and have kept it. It’s a special place for me.”
Mark Occhilupo (Aus), at 36 the oldest WCT competitor in history, togetherwith fellow Gold Coaster Joel Parkinson, who won the tour opener at his homebreak of Snapper Rocks, and Michael Lowe (Wollongong), winner of the lasttournament in Fiji, complete the current top eight.
“It’s going to be a big event for me,” reasoned Occhilupo. “I haven’t donewell there for a long time and I really want to. I’m going there about aweek early to get familiar with it again.
“We saw the leader (Andy Irons) have an early loss in Fiji, so everyone isgoing to be really keen to catch up,” he added. “It’s going to be a greatcontest for sure.”
Lowe, 25, put on an outstanding forehand performance in Fiji’s hollowleft-handers to win the last WCT, but will now rely on his backhand attackat Jeffreys.
“J-Bay is definitely my favorite right-hander in the world and the peopleare so friendly there,” said Lowe. “When the wave’s on, there’s no otherplace where you can go faster.”
Defending Billabong Pro champion Jake Paterson (Aus) has won the last twoeditions to become the first back-to-back winner since the inaugural contestin June 1983. Flying over early to gain more practice time, the current #29will be vying for a similar result to shoot him further up the ratings.
“I’m going there in need of a good result, like I did last year,”acknowledged Paterson. “I feel relaxed though, as the wave is so good. Thenew ‘Best 2 wave’ scoring system will probably be used, so it’ll beinteresting to see how it works there.
“Every year is difficult, but this year will be the hardest for sure,” heconceded of the stacked heat draw. “With Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning,’Parko’, and Taj Burrow… everyone’s so good. Last year a lot of the bignames lost early and I held on. I’ll just be taking it heat by heat. Youcan’t worry about the final when you have to get through your first heatstill. I do feel confident though. In the last four years I have won theevent twice and was beaten by the eventual winner the other two times. I’mjust hoping to have a good run again.”
Six-time world champion Kelly Slater (USA) will also be a major threat. TheFloridian, now in his comeback season after three years of semi-retirementand the winner of the 1996 event, is extremely motivated to grace the J-Bayline-up again.
“I haven’t surfed J-Bay since 1999, or surfed in the contest since 1998,”stated Slater. “J-Bay’s obviously a great wave and we worked for years totry and get it back on tour. There was a long period when it wasn’t a tourevent, and J-Bay was one of the first steps to getting all the good waves onboard. It’s exciting to go back there and surf a perfect right with only twoguys in the water.”
East London’s Greg Emslie and Durban’s Paul Canning will represent the SouthAfrican charge in the continent’s most lucrative surfing tournament.
Another four locals – Brad Bricknell (Jeffreys Bay), Sean Holmes(Wilderness) and Durbanites Simon Nicholson and Travis Logie – have beengiven the opportunity to compete against the world’s best exponents whenthey contest the Von Zipper Trials against Australians Shaun Cansdell andBede Durbidge, together with Che Stang (USA) and Danilo Costa (Brazil).
The trials will be staged on the opening day of the Billabong Pro with thetop two finishers receiving wildcards into the country’s most prestigioussurfing event.