Surfing Down Under
Words Craig Jarvis, Pics ©ASP/Kirstin, ©ASP/Carey, ©ASP/WillHaydenSmith
It’s four o’clock in the morning and the beachfront is illuminated from the pop-up shops and security spotlights. The contest village at the Quiksilver Pro at Snapper Rocks, Gold Coast, Australia, will be waking up soon as the crowd flock down to watch their heroes surf in the first World Championship Tour contest of the year, but for now it is still. I’m in an apartment block that looms over the village and can see the entire strip of shops, restaurants and bars, all closed, but that’s not what I’m looking at. I’m looking beyond their facades, behind their shop fronts, out to sea. There is a new swell pouring down the point and if I want to get a few runners before the crowd emerges, I have to get moving, really quickly. I turn on the kettle.
In South Africa we have no idea about crowds. We complain when there are 40 guys out at Long Beach on a weekend, we moan when the Supertubes in Jeffreys Bay are busy. We look on and gripe when New Pier in Durban has an early morning pack on it. We have no idea. I go down to the gully at Snapper at five in the morning and the sun is already up. It’s not light, but there is plenty of vision. There are 50 guys in the water already, waiting for me to join them. There are another 50 on the beach with me, getting ready to paddle out. That’s 100 surfers, at least, and it’s only five o’clock. Many South Africans, not accustomed to such crowds, would turn tail and go for coffee at this stage. But I’m psyched, ready to give it a go, up for the challenge. Anyway, I want to go for a quick surf so that I can understand what the conditions will be like when the South Africans compete later today in the first competition of the Quiksilver Pro Surfing World Championship Tour. Jordy Smith, Travis Logie and Bianca Buitendag are all there and will be hitting it later.
As more and more surfers arrive at the gulley in groups of ten or more, it’s dog-eat-dog out there, with everyone scrambling for anything that moves. It’s hard to fathom the absolute numbers of surfers; there are young girls, old guys, pros, longboarders, Japanese surfers, kneeboarders, stand up paddlers and everything in-between. They are relentless and they just keep on coming. I manage to sneak in a few quick waves and with a few under the belt, I decide to retreat before frustration kicks in.
The World Championship Tour is the premier surfing tour in the world and we have three surfers from South Africa competing in it. In the Men’s, we have seasoned campaigner Travis Logie, from Durban, and the 2010 WCT runner up Jordy Smith, from Cape Town. In the Ladies, we have rookie Bianca Buitendag from George. There are said to be 3,3 million surfers in America and a reported 2 million surfers in Australia. In South Africa? Some people use a figure of 60,000. It might be less. So, in comparison, for us to have three surfers on the elite tour is pretty good. It’s hard for South African surfers. The Rand is weak, and the local surf industry is obviously so much smaller here. Our surfers need to train hard and invest in themselves, and very few South Africans actually succeed in the dog-eat-dog world of pro surfing. Luckily, we have some of the best and uncrowded waves in the world, so our surfers do have the best training available.
The Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast takes place from 2 to 13 March, at Snapper Rocks, Rainbow Bay, just down from Coolangatta and an hour’s drive from Surfers Paradise. It’s an enormous event with a carnival atmosphere, and starts the professional surfing tour off with a bang. Jordy is a regular stand out at this event, having placed fifth or higher over the least three years, and all eyes are on him this year.
In the first round, the South Africans are on fire. Travis gets the highest score of the first round and Jordy the second highest. Bianca doesn’t fare as well as them, but bounces back and kills it in her second heat. The South Africans are impressing all and sundry, with the local press and media documenting their every move.
The wave at Snapper Rock is a freak of nature. Just south of the waves, the Tweed Head River has a system where they pump tons of sand from the mouth and deposit it further out to sea. This sand snakes northward with the prevailing current and forms a sandbank along the shoreline. All the sand collects and packs in-between the rocks and stones to form a perfect sandbar over which the waves run. These waves get longer and longer, and on occasion, a few waves join up, forming a mile-long wave, sometimes more. It’s called the Superbank, but it’s not at its best this year. The pump that throws the sand out is broken, a casualty from the recent cyclones that have belted the Gold Coast. The waves are good; they’re just not the world-class quality that the world has come to expect. Still, the South Africans love it and are racking up the points.
Through the seeding system, Travis and Jordy are unfortunately placed against each other in the third round. It’s math, with the top seed facing off against the bottom seed and increments thereof. Jordy is tenth seed after the first round and Travis is fifteenth, and they draw each other. It’s a disappointment for many, but either way a South African is going to advance.
It’s a tight heat. Travis leads for the majority of the heat, but Jordy sneaks in a wave in the last minute. He surfs it as best he can, ripping it all the way through to the inside, and we all wait for the scores. Some people think that Jordy has it in the bag, while others see it going Travis's way. It goes to Trav, by .01 of a point. Jordy is out. The big guy shakes Travis's hand graciously, hands his vest in and disappears into the crowd.
Travis and Bianca are eliminated along the way to the final, and it turns out to be a final between current ASP World Champion Joel Parkinson and 11-times World Champion Kelly Slater. The contest is moved down to Kirra, a famous surfing spot that has all but disappeared over the years due to sand build-up and the removal of 30 metres of groyne (a low wall built out from the coast into the sea, to prevent the repeated movement of the waves from removing parts of the land). It has come back to life for this event and the waves are excellent. This is an unusual move, but the surf conditions are so much better at Kirra, and the contest organisers are all for the venue move.
It’s a barrel fest between the two world champions and in the end Kelly shows the world why he has 11 world titles, shutting the door on his opponent to win his fifty-second professional surfing event.
Travis Logie placed 9th at the Quiksilver Pro and Jordy Smith 13th. Bianca Buitendag placed 5th in the Roxy Pro. The Men’s World Tour moves on to Brazil for the Billabong Pro Rio from 8 to 19 May, and the ladies head on over to New Zealand for the TSB Bank Surf Festival from 3 to 7 April.
For more information about the Quiksilver Pro Surfing World Championship Tour visit www. Aspworldtour.com or http://quiksilverlive.com/progoldcoast/2013/
Source: DO IT NOW