The South African showman stands head and shoulders above the rest.
Jordy Smith has shown why he is a genuine world title threat after defeating Brazilian Caio Ibelli in the final of the Rip Curl Pro. The South African powerhouse lead from start to finish in a high scoring final that saw him take the win 18.90 – 17.46.
“I can’t believe it, said Smith after the win. “To get second last year…when I woke up this morning I was just happy to be in round 4 and every step of the way was just a bonus. I just didn’t take things too seriously.”
Smith stayed busy throughout the final posting three nine point rides, unloading with a series of gouging hacks muscling his way to victory with pure power. Smith’s heavy-footed hacks blended seamlessly with his crisp snaps and claims verging on overconfidence. As he gestured he was ringing the bell with 16 minutes to go (yes, 16 minutes!) you almost wondered if he had delivered himself a fatal curse.
However, after a runner up place in 2016 to Matt Wilkinson and a controversial 9.93 which saw him lose to Julian Wilson in round 5 of the 2014 Rip Curl Pro, Smith can finally put those nightmares behind him after claiming a place in pro surfing history with a win at Bells.
“This is just absolutely a dream come true,” said Smith. “10 years of just hammering away and trying my very best, I’m just over the moon today.”
The fighting spirit of 2016 Rookie of the Year, Caio Ibelli, made sure the South African was pushed to the limit and his second-place finish at Bells is the best in his career. Ibelli surfed aggressively and his 9.63 was surfed to perfection as he attacked the lip with unbridled passion and as Pottz was say, ‘Plenty of pizazz’.
On the way to the final the Brazilian cruelled John John Florence taking the semi-final win against the Hawaiian with a buzzer beater 8.73 that no one saw coming. Ibelli eliminated Florence in similar fashion in 2016 and head to head he’s 3-1 vs. John John.
After a ninth-place finish at Snapper, a fifth Margaret River and now a first-place finish at Bells, Smith jumps into second place on the ratings after the Australian leg and has laid the foundation for a 2017 world title run. With a stable entourage which includes former CT-er, coach Chris Gallagher, Smith appears to have finally fine-tuned his whole act and is ready to strike.
Aside from the Smith vs Ibelli final there were plenty of highlights from a huge day of competition.
Hawaiian rookie Zeke Lau impressed with a third-place finish after being narrowly defeated by Jordy Smith in the semis. His heat against and on fire Filipe Toledo saw him post a clutch 9.77 which showed his pure determination to win. His third-place finish at Bells will ensure no one will want to draw the Hawaiian from here on out.
Despite being booted out of the event by Zeke, Filipe Toledo deserves an honourable mention. The wiry high flyer has evolved from a 3-4 foot specialist into someone not afraid to commit to big turns in the big stuff. At just 21-years-old if he can do like Gabe does in waves of consequence (Tahiti, Pipe) he will be a force to be reckoned with.
No contest wrap would be complete without acknowledging the superhuman effort of John John Florence at this event. He was pegged to win it from the get go and after his round 4 heat against Mick and Owen this morning that saw him come from behind to just about combo the whole field with one huge oop. It was Margaret River all over again. He surfed far too conservative against Ibelli in the semis however, the third-place finish sees him retain the yellow jersey.
As the tour heads to Brazil if the Australian leg has proved anything it’s that anyone can win an event and we’re likely to see more upsets and bruised egos as the tour vets continue to lose pace.