J-Bay has a very Clint Eastwood feel to it this week.
It’s decided that enough is enough and has begun yelling at the neighborhood kids to stay off its lawn. J-Bay enjoys the status quo, not these young punks with their Pokemon GO and white Vans.
OK, that got a little weird. But looking at the eight quarterfinalists for the J-Bay Open, it feels a lot less like 2016 and a lot more like 2014. Heading into finals day will be John John Florence, Jordy Smith, Kelly Slater, Josh Kerr, Julian Wilson, Gabriel Medina, Mick Fanning and Filipe Toledo.
While it’s an amazing collection of names, just Florence, Medina and Smith entered the event among the top 14 surfers on the current 2016 Championship Tour rankings. All the upheaval spurred on by upstarts like Sebastian Zietz, Italo Ferreira, Caio Ibelli and Ace Buchan is completely absent this week. Most notably, points leader Matt Wilkinson’s third-round loss to Alejo Muniz has again swung the door wide open for just about everyone in the top 10.
Wilkinson is still guaranteed to hold onto the yellow jersey for at least one more contest, but Medina can cut his lead to just 250 points were he to pick up his second straight event win. Florence can get with within just 350 points with a J-Bay title. Fanning and Slater can move back in the top 10, where we’re much more used to seeing them.
For Seabass, you’d have to say he was a bit unlucky in South Africa. That’s nothing new when it comes to him taking on Michel Bourez. The last time the pair met, Zietz incurred an interference at the closing horn when he felt he had priority, but that advantage was null and void when the clock hit zero. It was a weird situation and cost Seabass a heat win at the Hurley Pro, where he was surfing incredibly well.
Still trying to get his first career win against Bourez, Zietz had to take the first heat of the early morning. The swell wasn’t expected to fill in much until later in the day, which ended up being the case. Competitors in the water later in the afternoon had much better opportunities to get into some more typical J-Bay conditions. Seabass did get to show off on one fun wave that featured a small grom barrel, but he couldn’t find the backup score to pull ahead. Bourez is now 5-0 against Zietz, though Seabass will remain in great position to stay in the top 10 and continue his re-qualification journey.
Everyone who made the quarters has a real chance to take the title. Fanning looks like the best version of himself right now and may be considered the favorite to finish the job. That would certainly be a great story after last year’s shark encounter ended he and Wilson’s final heat at this very event. I think the eventual winner comes out of that bottom half of the draw, with whoever emerges between Fanning, Wilson and Medina picking up the win.
It’s been happening a little over the past couple months, but the reversion to the mean seems to be in full force. With all the talent and experience still in the J-Bay draw, the final eight have to be asking themselves, “Do I feel lucky, punk?”
OK, I don’t know why they’d call themselves a punk, either. I just feel compelled to complete my metaphors.
David Simon can be reached at email@example.com.