Jeffreys’ Lure

There’s a mystique to Africa that attracts people from all walks: Africa’s wildlife, rugged landscape, timeless beauty, and links to our origin have piqued curiosity for centuries. For us surfers, waves are the bait.

One look at a world map hints at the possibilities of great surf along Africa’s countless miles of mostly uninhabited coastline. Situated right down the bottom, at the southeast tip of South Africa, is a coastal dwelling named Jeffreys Bay.

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Once unknown to native and foreign surfers alike, due to the main road bypassing the small township comprised of a single general store, it pains the imagination to consider how many epic days passed unappreciated. Even once the fortunate few became aware and others started camping out in the bushes behind the once-prominent sand dunes, most sections of the long, rocky point break remained virgin. Surfers migrated toward the Point, now one of the least crowded areas, while waves began their journey out at Boneyards, picked up intensity and shape through Supertubes, raced down the line with perfection at Tubes and Impossibles, hit the recently named Salads, before appearing on radar. From there, the Point and Albatross hosted leash-less single fins and an array of sea life.

As word spread of the incredible lineup, more people slowly arrived. Surfing equipment evolved, and soon enough surfers were paddling farther up the point toward Supertubes and gaining a new appreciation for speed and the real perfection of the place.

Over time and with the advent of pro surfing and Cheron Kraak’s Country Feeling clothing label promoting the spot, and nowadays Billabong–the company she’s licensee for and runs largely from her amazing house overlooking the break–surfers the world over began making pilgrimages, and property development boomed. At one point, it was the fastest growing coastal town in South Africa.

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Driving now into Jeffreys Bay from Port Elizabeth airport, just over an hour away, you can sense the change the area’s experienced. For most of the ride, you’re surrounded by the sparseness of the natural backdrop, which hints of African safaris. As town nears, so does the distinct view of rooftops. Houses, holiday apartment blocks, and B&Bs litter the landscape near the beach and surrounding hills. Most places remain empty for a large part of the year, but the local community clearly embraces the Billabong Pro as an annual holiday season. The impact of traveling surfers, media, and spectators during the peak of winter (July and August … remember, it’s the Southern Hemisphere) fuels everything from hotels to supermarkets and the many restaurants, surf shops, and drinking establishments.

Years ago the South African Rand was actually worth more than the dollar, but as it continues to lose strength, value for money is another undeniable lure for the traveling surfer. It’s a long flight from just about anywhere, and tickets aren’t cheap, but once you’re there, affording a meal shouldn’t be an issue with the current ten-to-one exchange rate. How South African surfers manage the cost of checking out the rest of the world is a different story.

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The Wave

“For waves that good I’d surf with ice in the water, glass on the reef, and travel to the moon,” joked Shea Lopez, affectionately recalling the spot he scored an amazing backhand barrel at last year, receiving his first perfect ten from judges.

Beautiful beach shells might attract tourists from around the country, and sure there’re incredible whale and dolphin vantage points from Supertubes’ lineup-close wooden decks, as well as majestic sunsets you couldn’t shoot enough photos of, but this is just garnish beside the meal. It’s the wave and those hypnotic lines stacked to the horiz on big swells that separate it from most spots. Sitting out the back as sets approach can literally give you goose bumps in anticipation.

“Catch a six-footer here, and all other rights seem to pale in comparison,” offered Jon Kitamura, a NorCal resident who’s come to Jeffreys for a solid month-plus of indulgence the past two years. “The lineup is spread out, and on a good swell, there are all kinds of waves coming in. Bombs out the back for the old fellas on big boards, double-ups hugging the shelf for the tube seekers. Supertubes is one place where it feels really good to just go straight, lay down some high lines, pull in, and you can do this for 150 meters <500 feet>, wave after wave.”

Speed is key. The barrels are amazing–carving sections present themselves countless times down the line, but the rate at which you can move between these options is almost spiritual. Like a Formula One racer, the surrounding area rushes by, but focus remains within and where you’re going. Nothing else matters as you choose your line and kick it into overdrive.

“When the wave’s on, there’s no other place where you can go faster,” said Mick Lowe, this year’s Billabong Pro runner-up.

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Performers

Jeffreys favors drawn-out turns. With a large canvas to work on, smooth arcs and rail-to-rail power transitions have always been appreciated most. Of the thousands who’ve surfed J-Bay, from locals to traveling pros, several have made an impact on the recognizable right point, including Shaun Tomson, Craig Van Rijn, Mikey Meyer, Pierre Tostee, Warren Dean, Justin Strong, Cass Collier, Jevon Le Roux, Frankie Oberholzer, Terry Fitzgerald, Tom Curren, Dane Kealoha, Gary Timperley, Martin Potter, Ronnie Burns, Simon Anderson, and Mickey Dora in his latter years.

All the top pros can execute any maneuver on demand, but those who link their turns with a seemingly effortless flow, holding speed to burn, leave an imprint. Names like Taylor Knox, Matt Hoy, Machado, Occy, Slater, Egan, Fabio Gouveia, Garcia (no one gouges like him), and more recently Joel Parkinson and Mick Fanning … together with locals Sean Holmes and Brad Bricknell, always standout when the ’CT reaches J-Bay.

2002 Showdown

This year’s $250,000 (R2.5 million) Billabong Pro was the most lucrative surfing tournament ever held in Africa. High expectations followed phenomenal waves at lead-up venues on the World Championship Tour (WCT), but as you’re sure to have seen already, the dream continued.

The newly introduced ASP “best two-wave” rule was highly anticipated for J-Bay, and it made an impact. Gone are the days when you have to watch a surfer like Taylor Knox pick off a bomb, then wait the rest of the heat in vain for two more waves to appear. Pressure is now squarely on performing, as opposed to wave count.

Current ratings leader Andy Irons held a commanding position pre-Jeffreys, courtesy of back-to-back victories in Australia and Tahiti. With momentum on his side, he posted a perfect ten first heat with a flawless series of tubes, leaving Knox and local Von Zipper wildcard Sean Holmes needing a combination of scores. For the Californian, a broken surfboard and injured groin were added insults. Seriously, as good as Taylor surfs, it’s a mystery why luck abandons him so often in competition.

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Holmes, who beat then-number-two-rated Cory Lopez in round two, went one better and ousted Irons the following round. With a relaxed demeanor and instinctive knowledge of the wave, he caused possibly the upset of the year, as he did in 1999 when Occy fell during his world-title campaign at J-Bay.

“It’s always good for a South African to do well here,” said Holmes at the height of his campaign. “For us to lose out here is almost like an insult, so we’re fighting to win.”

Against Aussie Danny Wills in their quarterfinal, however, the Springbok failed to advance despite posting a perfect ten first wave. Tactics, no matter how few waves are counted, still play a factor at this level.

Defending two-time Billabong Pro champion Jake Paterson had his hat trick spoiled by fellow countryman Kieren Perrow. The West Australian was fitting in more turns per wave than virtually anyone all week, but for the first time in three years, luck wasn’t riding alongside.

Six-time World wizard Kelly Slater was back at Jeffreys for the first time in three years, but never really found his groove. All eyes scrutinized every wave/turn he was part of, and the general consensus was that the King was off his competitive game. There were flashes of brilliance, like a two-turn combo that scored him nine points against Russell Winter, but it couldn’t steer him through the dark batch he’d been experiencing. Taj Burrow ultimately overcame nerves to hand Kelly his fifth consecutive early exit.

“It’s been horrible,” said Slater of his results. “My worst year on tour ever. I guess changes in my life and years off the tour have seen my focus change. I have to try and zone back in on where to put that and how to put energy into it.”

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Over the past decade natural footers have dominated the Billabong Pro, and ultimately the same proved true in 2002. On his first trip, Mick Fanning played like he was at home on the now virtual lineup from Snapper Rocks through Greenmount to Kirra, and laid down sweeping carves with the kind of speed and agility destined to draw a surfer to Jeffreys.

Fanning, the 2001 World Qualifying Series (WQS) champion who captured the Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach last year as a wildcard, had no easy ride to the final. He beat fellow finalist Mick Lowe and Guilherme Herdy in round one, Damien Hobgood in the third, Kalani Robb in the fourth, an in-form Burrow during the quarterfinals, and the always dangerous Wills in semifinal number one.

The 21 year old then dominated the decider against Lowe, who was coming fresh off his win at the Quiksilver Pro Fiji. Fanning’s near-perfect 9.8 for powering off the bottom of a set and into arguably the most futuristic maneuver all year–a carving reverse 360 off the lip–and then a series of precise carves and clean tubes, defined the epic tournament. Two more smokers sealed victory with the highest combined three-wave total at J-Bay for 27.7-points, and another event was history.

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The Hook

First person I met at Jeffreys in 1998 was standing supported by crutches, bandages around his right foot. His explanation scared the shit out of me. It turns out he was attacked by a shark while bodyboarding at Magnitudes, the next break west of Boneyards. The way he described the incident, so matter-of-factly, highlighted the sharks’ ominous presence.

During that visit there was another attack in Durban, and then another series of shark visits in the J-Bay region. Locals credited El Niño and the warmer weather patterns, but whatever the reason it was terrifying each pre-dawn session, legs dangling in search of an empty wave.

J-Bay’s rocks also pose a real threat to your feet and surfboards. The entry and exit points to the lineup are pretty straightforward in small conditions, but add size, and the chances of making it out at Supers or in without washing past the gap near Impossibles diminishes. Booties help cushion the impact you’re sure to have, so it’s worth getting used to the added rubber.

Then there’s the wind and water temperature …

“I’m not laughing at your hood anymore,” said Andy Irons, paddling past my 4/3 mm-covered, bootied, and hooded self. At J-Bay the water rarelan insult, so we’re fighting to win.”

Against Aussie Danny Wills in their quarterfinal, however, the Springbok failed to advance despite posting a perfect ten first wave. Tactics, no matter how few waves are counted, still play a factor at this level.

Defending two-time Billabong Pro champion Jake Paterson had his hat trick spoiled by fellow countryman Kieren Perrow. The West Australian was fitting in more turns per wave than virtually anyone all week, but for the first time in three years, luck wasn’t riding alongside.

Six-time World wizard Kelly Slater was back at Jeffreys for the first time in three years, but never really found his groove. All eyes scrutinized every wave/turn he was part of, and the general consensus was that the King was off his competitive game. There were flashes of brilliance, like a two-turn combo that scored him nine points against Russell Winter, but it couldn’t steer him through the dark batch he’d been experiencing. Taj Burrow ultimately overcame nerves to hand Kelly his fifth consecutive early exit.

“It’s been horrible,” said Slater of his results. “My worst year on tour ever. I guess changes in my life and years off the tour have seen my focus change. I have to try and zone back in on where to put that and how to put energy into it.”

[IMAGE 6]

Over the past decade natural footers have dominated the Billabong Pro, and ultimately the same proved true in 2002. On his first trip, Mick Fanning played like he was at home on the now virtual lineup from Snapper Rocks through Greenmount to Kirra, and laid down sweeping carves with the kind of speed and agility destined to draw a surfer to Jeffreys.

Fanning, the 2001 World Qualifying Series (WQS) champion who captured the Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach last year as a wildcard, had no easy ride to the final. He beat fellow finalist Mick Lowe and Guilherme Herdy in round one, Damien Hobgood in the third, Kalani Robb in the fourth, an in-form Burrow during the quarterfinals, and the always dangerous Wills in semifinal number one.

The 21 year old then dominated the decider against Lowe, who was coming fresh off his win at the Quiksilver Pro Fiji. Fanning’s near-perfect 9.8 for powering off the bottom of a set and into arguably the most futuristic maneuver all year–a carving reverse 360 off the lip–and then a series of precise carves and clean tubes, defined the epic tournament. Two more smokers sealed victory with the highest combined three-wave total at J-Bay for 27.7-points, and another event was history.

[IMAGE 7]

The Hook

First person I met at Jeffreys in 1998 was standing supported by crutches, bandages around his right foot. His explanation scared the shit out of me. It turns out he was attacked by a shark while bodyboarding at Magnitudes, the next break west of Boneyards. The way he described the incident, so matter-of-factly, highlighted the sharks’ ominous presence.

During that visit there was another attack in Durban, and then another series of shark visits in the J-Bay region. Locals credited El Niño and the warmer weather patterns, but whatever the reason it was terrifying each pre-dawn session, legs dangling in search of an empty wave.

J-Bay’s rocks also pose a real threat to your feet and surfboards. The entry and exit points to the lineup are pretty straightforward in small conditions, but add size, and the chances of making it out at Supers or in without washing past the gap near Impossibles diminishes. Booties help cushion the impact you’re sure to have, so it’s worth getting used to the added rubber.

Then there’s the wind and water temperature …

“I’m not laughing at your hood anymore,” said Andy Irons, paddling past my 4/3 mm-covered, bootied, and hooded self. At J-Bay the water rarely feels as bone-chilling as nearby Cape Town, or even Northern California in winter, but the added offshore wind factor on those classic days cuts right through you. In those conditions, a hood can make the difference between a short or memorable session.

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To better understand the intensity of Jeffreys’ offshore winds, picture this: Round one, heat fifteen this year, Fabio Gouveia gets cleaned up by a huge set and breaks his leash. Instead of tumbling toward shore in the whitewash, his board is blown out to sea like a lost feather as the sun fades. Miraculously, a fishing boat was in its path and two days later, via Port Elizabeth and a bunch of phone calls, the Brazilian had his baby back safe and sound.

You pay for perfection, but as Mick Lowe reasoned, it’s a small price for Jeffreys: “We don’t go to many places where it’s freezing cold, so it’s good to put on a jacket and beanie and wear a steamer at one of the world’s best rights.”

arely feels as bone-chilling as nearby Cape Town, or even Northern California in winter, but the added offshore wind factor on those classic days cuts right through you. In those conditions, a hood can make the difference between a short or memorable session.

[IMAGE 8]

To better understand the intensity of Jeffreys’ offshore winds, picture this: Round one, heat fifteen this year, Fabio Gouveia gets cleaned up by a huge set and breaks his leash. Instead of tumbling toward shore in the whitewash, his board is blown out to sea like a lost feather as the sun fades. Miraculously, a fishing boat was in its path and two days later, via Port Elizabeth and a bunch of phone calls, the Brazilian had his baby back safe and sound.

You pay for perfection, but as Mick Lowe reasoned, it’s a small price for Jeffreys: “We don’t go to many places where it’s freezing cold, so it’s good to put on a jacket and beanie and wear a steamer at one of the world’s best rights.”