JEFFREYS BAY, South Africa — There was no shortage of standout surfing in Round 1 of the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay, but it was Association of Surfing Proffessional’s World Tour veteran Taylor Knox who stole the show in perfect 4- to 6-foot waves in South Africa, yesterday.
Knox posted near perfect 9.90 and 9.80 wave scores for a combined total of 19.70 out of 20.00 points to take out world No. 2 Joel Parkinson and replacement surfer Nic Muscroft of Australia. Muscroft is surfing in place of an injured Aritz Aranburu.
“It’s really enjoyable to be in a heat like that, it was unreal.” Knox said, in a release. “It was exciting, because Parko got the first wave and I could see that it was such a good wave and I knew that once it went by me, it would barrel. Right then I saw a big one out the back and just thought, ‘I’m going to get barreled.’”
Knox utilized his entire repertoire while posting the highest heat total of his 15 year, 474-heat ASP World Tour career. In addition to his 9.90 and 9.80, Knox had a 9.00 in his scoreline to spare.
“I’ve had 10s before but I don’t think that I have ever backed it up with a 9.70 so I’d say that this was probably the highest scoring heat I’ve ever surfed,” Knox said.
Parkinson scored a perfect 10 in his heat against Knox, and backed it up with an 8.00 but still came up short. The World No. 2 will meet 1984 Jeffreys Bay Champion Mark Occhilupo, who earned a wildcard into the event via the VonZipper Trials, in Heat 1 of Round 2.
Eight-time ASP World Champion and ASP ratings leader Kelly Slater beat Occhilupo and Dayyan Neve in Round 1.
“It’s nice to have a heat with Occy, especially out here,” Slater said, in a release. “There’s always a chance that he could get another wildcard, but every event he’s in, we’re all thinking it might be his last and this is the place that he has really shined over the years.”
Slater has really shined so far, this year. Having claimed three of four events this season, he is well and truly poised to campaign for a ninth ASP World Title and is enjoying every minute of it.
“I’ve been having a lot of fun,” Slater said. “The tour has been a lot of fun and the contests have been fun. I wasn’t planning on doing all of the contests this year. I wasn’t planning on going to Bells and then I won Bells, so it made Tahiti and Fiji pretty hard to pass up. It’s been a miracle year for me so far, everything is falling into the right places at the right times.”
Slater has won at Jeffreys Bay a record three times and stands to increase his lead if he can take out the event a fourth time. Still, Slater’s closest contenders are in form as well.
“JBay has been a great place for me competitively,” Slater said. “But if I were to win I know one of those guys close by me would be in second and another would be in third, so it wouldn’t be a huge amount of ground made up; still, stranger things have happened. Last year, in Trestles, most of the best guys lost early on and I made some ground. I could also blow it here and a whole bunch of guys could catch up, so it’s still really open. Everyone gets on a hot streak for a little while, so you can’t count anyone out at this point.”
World No. 5 Taj Burrow won his heat after opening up with a 9.93, the second highest wave score of the day, for a deep barrel ride.
“I was pretty high up the top and I know that Tommy was sniffing around for the same wave, but I got onto it out the back and knew I needed to go as fast as I could,” Burrow said. “By the time I got to the sweet spot it was pretty round so I just went straight through it a couple of times, it was fun!”
Burrow is the defending champion having beat Slater in the Billabong Pro final in Jeffreys Bay last year. He was also runner-up to the ASP World Title last year and is eager to make another run in 2008.
“I feel like I can defend my title.” Burrow said. “It’s definitely on my mind because if we want to make a jump on Kelly, it’s a now or never kind of thing. This is an event I know I can do it in, so that’s my plan. Everyone is fired up and surfing so well n it’s going to be awesome for the spectators but pretty hard for us.”
Reigning ASP World Champion Mick Fanning put on a signature performance to take out Dane Reynolds and Hawai‘i wildcard Granger Larsen in his Round 1 heat yesterday.
“It was good fun, really nice waves,” Fanning said. “I’m just stoked to start the contest off with a big bang after last year, which was pretty sad. When there are waves like this, everyone is on their game. These are the Top 45 surfers in the world and everyone rips — so put them on an open canvas like this and watch them go.”
Fanning has ped to seventh on the ratings but is enjoying a reprieve from the pressure that goes along with chasing a title. He is concentrating on his game, not Slater’s.
“I’m just worried about myself,” Fanning said. “I had a topsy-turvy start to the year, but now everything is feeling good so I’m just going to try to concentrate on myself and get the result I need.”
“People always say I’m a good shot at the title here and I think I am too,” Durbidge said. “Hopefully this year I can live up to it.”
Kaua‘i’s Bruce Irons scored a last minute victory to send his brother Andy and Australia’s Dan Ross to Round 2.
“I thought I lost,” Bruce said. “I walked home and gave my brother my jersey to turn in. Then Joel (Parkinson) came over and told me I won on the last exchange. I didn’t think I got it, but it’s cool, I get to move on. I’m hoping to get a little more adjusted to the cold water though, I couldn’t feel my feet.”
Andy Irons will meet wildcard Larsen in Heat 2 of Round 2 which could run today.
Fellow Hawai‘i surfer Pancho Sullivan missed Round 1 citing travel challenges but will compete in the event if he can make it to South Africa before his Round 2 heat.
An official call on competition status will be made at 7 a.m. local time, today.