If the forecasts are correct we should be looking to kick off the Corona J-Bay Open on Friday evening Aussie time. Frankly it’s been way too long since Fiji and I can’t wait to see the next installment in what is looking like the closest World Title race in year. Here’s a five things to look for if and when Round 1 kicks off. 

The Wildcards

Not huge names, the WSL wildcard policy dictates that excitement is kept to the bare minimum, but I have feeling one of the two South Africans could do real damage. Dale Staples is a powerful, unsponsored tube pig of the highest order and growing up round the corner at Cape St Francis has been on every swell this year. He’s in rhythm with the wave and has absolutely nothing to lose. I’ve watched the Capetonian Michael February at close quarters over the last few years on the QS and have been impressed. He’s a quiet, smart and thoughtful guy, and a really stylish surfer whose athletic frame adds power. He’s on an upward curve and coming off a third at Ballito will be confident. They aren’t big names, but then again neither was Shaun Holmes, and he wreaked havoc here for years. 

Gigs Cillier

The 110 kilogram big-wave kneeboarding champ turned WSL commentator is the only person in who is currently adding to the surfing lexicon. Last week in Ballito he mentioned the “repercussions in the wave face” and in any given heat, his linguistic gymnastics is of such a clipped, imaginative precision you can only sit back and admire the syntax. Who is he? Where does he comes from? Who cares, he calls a clock a timepiece and a sandbank infrastructure and that’s enough for me. 

Wilko’s Wobbly Boot

It was last year in Jeffreys Bay that the wheels came off Wilko’s world title campaign. With all of the attention of the yellow jersey he looked both tentative and nervous, recently describing that performance as like, “surfing with a wobbly boot.” He’s a more controlled confident surfer 12 months down the line and we only have to remember his efforts here in 2014, one of my favorite performances by any surfer over the last five years (disclaimer: I’m a goofy). A win over Jeremy Florence and Ethan Ewing in Heat 4 will be important in settling the nerves and kicking off that wobbly boot for good. 

Monkey Off The Back

Ethan Ewing is now the only surfer on tour yet to win a CT heat in 2017 and the longer that goes on, the deader the weight around his neck it will continue to be. It doesn’t help that that J-Bay is notoriously difficult for rookies and that he is caught up in a seeding death spiral that has him surfing against the top seeds early. On the positive side, the wave suits his smooth style and on pure talent alone, he is capable of beating anyone. A Round 1 win could be the catalyst for getting his head around the CT. 

Heat Of The Round

Smith, Coffin and February looks Heat 5 looks tasty, while Buchan, O’Leary and Freestone in Heat 9 is the the pick of the all-Aussie affairs. Anytime Julian Wilson and Kelly Slater meet is box office and Kanoa Igarashi is a pretty good spoiler in their Heat 8. However the pick of the Round might be the very last. That sees the return from exile of Filipe Toledo, his fast twitch fibres going up against the muscle of Michel Bourez and rookie Ezekiel Lau. That, my friends, is a heat full of hammers.