There may not have been a worse contest for Hawaii’s surfers and, well, pretty much the rest of the non-Aussie universe last year than the J-Bay Open. Four Australians made up the semifinals, five Aussies and three Brazilians reached the quarters. The final was a Mick-Parko showdown with Fanning ultimately taking the title. An identical result this time around could certainly push Fanning into the top spot in the rankings.
But I think that no matter who picks up the winner’s check at South Africa’s illustrious Jeffreys Bay, Adriano de Souza will be wearing the gold jersey when the men move on to Tahiti. The Brazilian is holding the slightest of leads over fellow countryman Filipe Toledo, but this is the spot for de Souza to restrengthen his grasp and increase that margin. After a fantastic start that netted him three top-three finishes and a win in the opening trifecta through Australia, de Souza hasn’t made it out of round three in either of his past two contests.
That’s going to change this week. The long rides at Supertubes will suit the regular footer in both his style and form. He can pack in numerous maneuvers and pick and choose the right barrels on his forehand. The momentum seems to have turned against him, but he’ll regain his composure on this wave, where he did happen to win a 6-Star event in 2012.
If there is a goofy footer to keep an eye on, it has to be Owen Wright. During that Aussie storm that hit South Africa at last year’s event, Wright was a semifinalist and knocked off eventual world champion Gabriel Medina in the quarterfinals. He’s been showing his prowess on his forehand and though he’ll have to be heading right on his backhand at Supertubes, his power and flow have made his recent surfing so impressive. Wright enters the contest in third for the season after just winning the Fiji Pro.
Hawaii’s contingent is once again down from five to four as John John Florence will be sidelined with his foot injury. Despite missing Fiji, Florence is still Hawaii’s highest ranked competitor at number 12 in the rankings. This second straight injury withdrawal eats up his pair of throwaway results, which will make it difficult for him to creep back toward the top of the ladder.
Kauai’s Sebastian Zietz has been a first-round king this season, winning four of his five opening heats. To make it five out of six, he’ll have to top Maui’s Dusty Payne and Australia’s Josh Kerr. Zietz has been in South Africa for a bit, having just competed at the QS 10,000 Ballito Pro. If there’s a dark horse to keep an eye on, Seabass could be it. He’ll be on his forehand and has been showing great wave selection this year. His style continues to remind onlookers of Andy Irons, who won at J-Bay in 2004. With John John, Jordy Smith, Taj Burrow and Jeremy Flores all out with injuries, things could be a bit more open early on. A deep run for Zietz is a real possibility.
It’s another wave that also certainly suits Payne, but things have been so tough this season that it’s hard to predict anything substantial until he manages more than a single sporadic heat win. If he’s going to make a push back up toward the Top 22, a big wave on his forehand would be a great place to start.
Last year it was the Aussies, but I think the Brazilians charge back ahead this week. Though he hasn’t looked like the top surfer in the world since taking over, de Souza is about to make a strong case for holding on to that gold jersey for a little while longer.
The J-Bay Open starts today in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, which sits a full 12 hours ahead of Hawaiian Standard Time.
David Simon can be reached at email@example.com.