CHILLY temperatures, drizzle and flat seas have not dampened the festive atmosphere which is building in Jeffreys Bay as South Africa’s premier surfing event, the 2015 J-Bay Open, got off to a nonstart in the surfing Mecca yesterday.
As contestants waited for swell and wave conditions to pick up, the organisers of the event – the sixth stop of the World Surf League’s Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour – called yesterday for a lay day and will reassess conditions from 7.30am today to decide whether to start the first heats of the contest.
The J-Bay Open, which attracts the world’s top professional surfers, is the anchor event for the town’s Jeffreys Bay Winterfest which features a smorgasbord of action and extreme sporting events and entertainment.
The surfing event, being staged at the iconic Supertubes surf break, will feature the world’s top-34 competitors in the 11-stage Championship Tour and will run until Sunday July 19, which will include any days waiting for good swell conditions.
In the lineup for this year’s event are reigning world champion Gabriel Medina of Brazil, 2014 winner Mick Fanning of Australia, the legendary Kelly Slater of the United States, and South Africa’s own two-time J-Bay winner, Jordy Smith, of Durban.
The wildcards for what is expected to be a hotly contested event are American Dane Reynolds and Slade Prestwich of Durban, who earned his wildcard at a recent J-Bay event.
Despite the icy weather and small waves of around a metre in height, scores of surfing fans and beachgoers milled around the contest area which also accommodates various stalls.
While a handful of surfers were making the best of the small waves in the bay, top-ranked professional surfers Fanning and Owen Wright, also of Australia, relaxed and enjoyed the ocean views.
The event was officially launched at the In Food restaurant in the town on Tuesday night and drew scores of fans, media representatives and a number of the top competing surfers.
Also at the launch was South Africa’s only representative in the top 34, Smith, who has just got back into the Championship Tour after a recent knee injury.
Speaking at the event, Smith said he was feeling good after the injury, which could have been a blessing in disguise.
“This has allowed me to get down to J-Bay sooner, so I have spent some time in the water down here, which has been great ahead of the contest,” he said.
Prestwich said he was thrilled at the opportunity to be able to compete against the world’s best. Naming Smith and Fanning as the toughest to beat, he said self-confidence would be key to success.