No shortage of opportunities as J-Bay off to cracking start

Everyone seemed to get their chance at a big number as the Corona J-Bay Open began in picturesque conditions at Jeffreys Bay in South Africa. The clean, open faces were certainly worth the first few lay days and just about everyone on the Championship Tour roster got a chance to showcase their skills with tubes and turns.

Nobody did more to announce his presence than John John Florence, riding without the yellow jersey for just the second time this year. Florence decided to put up not one, not two, but three nine-point rides in his opening heat. Local wild card Dale Staples and Brazil’s Ian Gouveia had their share of fine moments but neither was more than window dressing for John John’s feature display.

Not that he needs motivation, but Florence seemed to show the rest of the competitors that any potential malaise that had affected him during the past two events was absent at this contest’s starting stage. He vaulted into round three, which has been his downfall during the last two tour stops. But John John looked to be more comfortable and confident on this wave than anyone else in the lineup. I can’t see the same potential for an upset that was more prevalent in both Rio and Fiji.

Though Florence stole the show from the start, almost everyone had big supporting roles. In total, there were 20 waves in the excellent range (scoring at least an 8.00) and a mix of big names and underdogs earned the early wins. Many of the usual suspects — Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning, Gabriel Medina, Adriano de Souza, Michel Bourez, Joel Parkinson — all joined John John in avoiding the second-round gauntlet and supplanting themselves directly into round three.

A couple of surprises featured Jack Freestone and Conner Coffin outpacing their opponents to earn the early wins, though maybe Coffin shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Despite three straight second-round defeats coming into this contest, Coffin’s style might be enhanced by J-Bay’s glassy persona. He can carve up a face as well as almost anyone, so if the barrels aren’t showing themselves, he has a lot of maneuvers in his arsenal. If he gets a little momentum, he may be a sleeper the rest of the way.

Current points leader Matt Wilkinson was on the short end of a fine start for Jeremy Flores. It’s no shock to see Flores thriving, since he’s a barrel connoisseur. His history at J-Bay is a little confounding because of that skill set, as he’s never had much success. But his 17.00 point heat to start things off was more than enough to send Wilko into dangerous waters. The rest of the world title contenders all crammed at the top of the heap were certainly Flores fans during that encounter.

The swell that was so perfect for that opening session should have likely remained for Saturday night’s call (Sunday morning in South Africa), before dissipating slightly today, according to Surfline. But they say the lull shouldn’t be too long and it’s supposed to build once again on Tuesday.

It seems like the organizers made the right call in waiting until they did and we were treated to an entertaining start. Things now get a little more serious as the big names look to continue moving through the draw for this much anticipated annual event.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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