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Smith goes through before J-Bay action called off

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The Corona Open J-Bay, stop No 6 on the 2017 World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour (CT), ran through the opening two heats of elimination Round 2 on Sunday before competition was put on hold. It was eventually called off after the inconsistent one-metre waves and crosswind conditions at Jeffreys Bay failed to improve.

Two-time event winner Jordy Smith of South Africa survived a tough Round 2 clash against fellow South African and trials winner Dale Staples, avoiding early elimination by the narrowest of margins and advancing on to Round 3.

After posting the highest single-wave score of the match-up, Staples needed just a 4.17 to claim the heat win and a berth in Round 3. As time wound down he had the chance to cause a major upset on a small but perfectly shaped wave.

However the 26-year-old from nearby St Francis Bay looked undecided whether to attack the wave and go for a big score, or ride it conservatively and try to get the moderate score required. The result was an unconvincing 3.77 from the judges and Smith benefited from the boxing adage that the challenger needs to knock the champion out, rather than trying to rely on a points decision.

‘It was definitely stressful out there and to be honest he (Staples) is probably the deadliest guy in the whole draw,’ Smith said.’I was just really lucky because he didn’t quite get the score. I just wanted to get two waves out there. We didn’t have many sets, but I’m just happy to get the job done. Even though we’re great friends, everyone wants to win. It sucks to come up against Dale in a heat, but I’m sure he’ll get more opportunities.’

Staples, known for his hard-charging style, won the JBU Supertrials in booming overhead waves at Supertubes in June and was disappointed that the expected larger surf did not materialise.

‘It’s always hard coming up against Jordy (Smith), one of my favourite surfers,’ said Staples.’It would have been nice to have some better waves and put on a show for everyone. I just came a bit short at the end, which is a bit of a bummer. It’s great to surf in good waves against the best surfers in the world – that’s the difference between the CT and QS. This just makes me more hungry to win.’

Current No 1 on the Jeep Leaderboard, Matt Wilkinson of Australia, faced South African wildcard Michael February (Kommetjie) in Heat 2. February came out firing and held the advantage after the opening exchange with 7.00 to Wilkinson’s 6.17.

However, the Australian locked in a 6.93 for his second score while February’s second wave petered out in the Carpark section for a 4.67. With Wilkinson holding priority, the ocean went flat for the remaining eight minutes of the encounter.

‘Mikey (February) has been surfing really good the past few days so I’m stoked to get the win,’ Wilkinson said.’When the tide’s this high you’re so close to the reef, so I’m happy to finish the heat intact and ready for Round 3.

‘This event would be unbelievable to win. I got a third out here when the waves were pumping (2014), so I know I can get big scores here when the waves are good. I guess I just have to beat Mick (Fanning) out here – he seems to be the one that takes the goofys out. The speed of the wave here makes it tricky to get points on your backhand, so you have to find a balance between speed and turns.’

As always, February was pragmatic about the defeat, and the current No 4 on the WSL Qualifying Series (QS) rankings is looking ahead to the challenge of maintaining his position in the Top 10 and trying to qualify for a place on the 2018 Championship Tour (CT).

’It was really fun surfing against Matt (Wilkinson), but he’s number one for a reason,’ said February.’Our heat was really fun at the beginning, but then there weren’t too many sets. I’m still happy and I enjoyed it.

‘This has been my best start to a year and that builds a lot of confidence. This wildcard was just a bonus, so I’m looking forward to the rest of the season. It’s really cool to have this event in South Africa and it really gives us the determination to try and qualify for the CT.’

WSL Commissioner Kieren Perrow put the event on hold after Heat 2, before calling competition off for the day when conditions did not improve.
 
’Unfortunately that swell just hasn’t materialised and it’s still really inconsistent out there so we won’t run any more heats today,’ said Perrow.’

‘We’ll come back tomorrow morning and things are still looking really promising. We’re excited to see what the next few days will bring for J-Bay.’

Picture of Smith in action, courtesy of WSL/Cestari


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