The year South Africa's fabled right turned on for a lucky QS contingent
The event at JBay has gone through several transitions over the years. From the early Billabong/Country Feeling years to the Corona Open JBay that is the current version.
With South Africa now going into a challenging phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no chance of the event happening this year. One can presume that the WSL will announce the postponement or cancellation of the contest shortly.
(Side note: If a CT event is cancelled, the surfers get paid out for last place(US$10,000), but if it is postponed they get nothing.)
Back in 2012, as a result of budget constraints, Billabong pulled back on the JBay contest and dropped it down from a Championship Tour event to a 6-Star QS contest. At that stage, Billabong was already feeling significant pressure as a brand. Still, it was committed to the Billabong Pro Rio, the Billabong Pro Teahupo'o and the Billabong Pipe Masters. They had to make cuts somewhere, and JBay was the only place, even though the world wanted them to cut back on Rio.
The few years leading up to 2012 had seen some really average conditions for the competition, with the event windows plagued by small swells and onshore winds. It wasn't stacking up as a prime event in terms of media - there's not too much that can be done with footage from two-foot, screaming side-shore, Boneyards. It seemed like the obvious choice. Rio had to stay because, well, Brazil.
This contest was a full house, with every QS hopeful in JBay for the competition. As they started arriving, a long-range south-west swell began filling in the bay, and the west winds started blowing strongly. It looked like waves for days.
The day before the event started the waves were six foot and all time, and it started off with some drama. South African goofy-footer Royden Bryson broke his leg cleanly in half in a pre-event warm-up surf. This injury sidelined the South African for the good part of a year.
With the world's best QS surfers out for a four-day swell at Supers, it was very evident that the wave is perfect. Still, it also showed up every flaw of those surfers who were not in tune with the wave, who did not have experience in finding the high lines, and tapping off on the speed when needed. There was a lot of desperate surfing, with few guys really getting it together.
Ezekial Lau was a stand-out, displaying raw power surfing throughout the contest. Local Dale Staples also produced some incredible power surfing, eliminating John John Florence from the tournament.
Jordy was looking good throughout and was theoretically going for a hat trick, having won the 2010 and 2011 events. However, he was beaten by the Frenchman Joan Duru in the round of 16, and the hat trick dream was over.
Another surfer who rose to the occasion was Heath Joske. It was the year that he sported a magnificent beard and executed that impromptu soul-arch that was heard around the world.
In 2012, Australian goofy-footer Nathan Hedge was on a mission. He wanted to requalify. To continue his career as a CT surfer. He was fit, and he was totally pumped, surfing better than ever. In the first round, in excellent waves, he picked up one solid set wave way out at the top of the point.
The lithe goofy-footer proceeded to perform seven radical turns on his backhand, with each one of them in the critical part of the wave. Each turn was done with absolute commitment, speed power and flow, and it was the first ten-point ride of the event. It just got better and better, and he turned harder off the top, applied more power off his back foot, and hooked it sharper and tighter as he went down the line. It was a hypnotizing ride to watch. We kept on thinking that he was going to slow down, to race down the line or do something more mundane. Instead Hedgy just got faster, more vertical and more aggressive.
An impeccable wave, reminiscent of Occy in his prime, Hedgie finished the ride off at the bottom gully with a crotch-grab and the announcer calling it a 10-point ride almost immediately. The crowd actually went wild.
When interviewed afterwards on the beach I asked him at what stage did he think he might get a perfect score, and his reply was, 'I don't know mate, I can't remember a thing about the ride.'