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Culture, Sport

Facebrick Nirvana

by Luke Mason / 26.07.2011

The path to surfing greatness is littered with rippers with fading sponsors and deviated septums. Hung-over vampires, their tans disappearing after their moment in the sun, they feed on table scraps and hump desks and handshakes, making a living in the contingency of a dream unfulfilled. After all, with only 32 spots available, losers outnumber winners a thousand to one and it’s no longer enough just to be talented. The ‘hopefuls’ know that hope doesn’t win contests.

So who cares if Jordy Smith – a young man looking to become one of the greatest South African sportsmen of all time – doesn’t have a bru on tour? What’s the issue? No one else in the mother country can touch him anyway. Boohoo, go blog about it. Don’t get me wrong here, I know that journalistic protocol dictates I get my number and stand in line to glad-hand the dude, but that is not my intention. I’ve known Jordy for years and for years it’s been more than the 1 foot height difference preventing us from seeing eye-to-eye. It all started as mean spirited youths in a mean spirited Glenwood surf team Kombi destined for the school championships 14 hours away. Unsurprisingly, like a pigeon among the cats, I had the entire Glenwood Boys High contingent stretching their vocabularies to breaking point, an hour in. The argument (race, class, the same old bullshit) lasted all the way to Seal Point. Too young then to know how to pick my battles; by the time we were weaving our way through the fynbos that evening, the argument had become filthy, heated and aimed to hurt on both sides of the fence. Jordy, already a hero and a world junior champ had taken on the responsibility of attempting to finally shut me up. Feeling spikey and indomitable on the zealous high horse of ignorance and youth, I went straight for the throat: “Fuck you Jordy, at least I can read!”
Jordy just looked at me and smiled: “Ja, but who’s world champ?” The bus exploded. Jordy’s entourage smashing its rattling sides and chanting his name. His logic was flawless. I was defeated.

Billabong Pro J-Bay

When we got out of the bus the testosterone merchant of an all-boys-school sports coach – the quintessential bigot to whom we bestow the responsibility of teaching our children that the world is indeed a fucked-up and idiotic place – grabbed me by the throat and showed me how the establishment feels about free thinking hippies. For years after that, the word “POES” lit up in neon lights inside my head each time the subject of Jordan Michael Smith emerged and I wrote the entire world of professional surfing off as a breeding-ground for douche-bag surf jocks.

I’ve got older, the chip on my shoulder shrunk, I’m even a little wiser in places. Jordy has matured too, started to settle into his fame. He’s still got the knife-edged stare of a true competitor and the ego of Captain America but that’s what you need to do what he’s doing. Past conflicts aside, I stand behind and support a fellow South African. Not for who he is, but for what he does. He is a truly amazing surfer, as good as or better than anyone in the world.

Billabong Pro J-Bay

When there are no waves, J-Bay is a lot like Umbilo and professional surfers a lot like regular guys; rather than the bunch of coked up ego maniac idiots I thought I was going to have to deal with. Most of the surfers wear their fame with humility, treat fans with respect and spend their days laughing and having fun with their friends. Not all that controversial, I know. Then waves pull in and suddenly it’s a contest. I wake up on day 10 of 11 to cranking Supertubes and a day of competitive surfing that would see 20 heats and 3 rounds completed, putting an end to any ifs and buts I was having about the whole professional surfing gig. After 10 days of drunken boredom it was finally time to shut-the-fuck-up and bear witness to what was fast becoming one of the most high performance displays of professional surfing ever seen. The actualisation of a language of wave-riding where the sky is the standard and the limit yet to be determined; the heralding in of the new guard.

Standing on a small viewing deck nestled in the dune foliage during Jordy’s Round 3 heat against Travis Logie, Paul Canning and Graham Smith, talk shop. The old Jedi master stares out at his padwan, his enormous pride in his progeny easily apparent. Jordy checks in every couple of minutes with a glance. Ballie-1 curses him for doing moves in the wrong places, using words like “pathetic” and “useless” when Jordy loses his competitive head. The dynamic hasn’t changed in many years and as Jordy is quick to recognise, much of his success has come from the guidance of his father, like the Doctor Frankenstein of professional surfing. In the end, Jordy hammers in the scores to easily overcome Travis, leaving Travis to seek the points he needs to get back onto the elite World Tour, somewhere else.

His form didn’t stop there, as we already know, but by the time Jordy had smashed his way to his 2nd consecutive J-Bay trophy I was hung-over and about halfway home. And as quickly as it was spilled, the champagne was washed off the boardwalk by the heavy South East squalls. The party followed Jordy and his entourage down to the Mexican, but J-Bay had already started transforming from the centre of the surfing universe back into the old facebrick town with the bad surfing habit, on the Western edge of Port Elizabeth. Life for the grizzled Chokka fishermen, the bright eyed surf shop employees, and the groms in Pellsrus who only surf Kitchen Windows, would be back to normal in the morning.

Billabong Pro J-Bay

*All images © ASP/Billabong.

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