A grinding start at J-Bay

John-John takes to the air in the men's first round at J-Bay. Photo WSL.

As we get down to the pointy end of the WSL championship tour, it’s been somewhat frustrating for viewers and competitors that Jeffreys Bay, one of the very best waves on the schedule, hasn’t produced the goods through the first half of the waiting period.

At the time of writing (Monday night) the promised swell still hasn’t really kicked in but the women are out there for their opening round in shoulder-high conditions similar to what the men endured before a string of lay days.

There are sets, but it’s not what you’d be hoping for if you need big results here and in the next event in Tahiti to have a chance at making the final five to surf off for a world title at Lower Trestles in California in September. And some of the very best surfers in the world are in that position.

Most notably, Margaret River’s extraordinary Jack Robinson, who looked every inch this year’s world champ after winning at Pipe, finishing third at Sunset and second in Portugal, now finds himself, following a run of early outs, in eighth place on the rankings going into J-Bay. And yet again in the elimination round as I write. Jack’s not out of the title hunt by any means. His performances in waves of consequence are legendary, so he could pull it all together if Chopes lights up, but I bet he’d like to punch back into contention in South Africa. All he needs is the swell to jack up to double overhead.

Also sitting just outside of the five are former multiple world champions John Florence and Gabriel Medina, sitting at six and seven, John-John making a comeback with a third in Rio, while Medina looks the goods but has been having a shocker since winning at Margaret River earlier in the season. Within the five, Toledo and Colapinto are neck and neck at one and two and one of them must be favoured to take it, but our Ethan Ewing and Brazil’s Joao Chianca are not out of it by any means, with Yago Dora the outsider.

A final point on the men: Yet again season wildcard Kelly Slater, 51, is in the elimination round fighting for survival after another shocker first round. As much as I love the guy and all that he’s given surfing, he must be feeling the heat. Time stands still for no man, not even the GOAT. Which he’ll always be, like Babe Ruth, Don Bradman and Wally Lewis. But maybe it’s time.

In the women’s, reigning champ Steph Gilmore is in exactly the same position that she was last year, outside the five and needing a late charge – a win or a second in one of the final two events. Well, she made history in 2022 in surfing four heats at Trestles in a day to take her eighth world title. Former world champs Carissa Moore and Tyler Wright are at one and two and seemingly in control of going all the way, and our Molly Picklum is also in the mix. But look out for rookie Caitlyn Simmers at five, because the teenager knows she’s got years on her side and she just wants to have fun. And the approach is working.

As I write the girls are still out there grinding away on the opening round, and it’s not pretty. Full report next week.

High times in daggy Aggie

While J-Bay has been struggling along, your columnist has been having a ball at Agnes Water, hanging out with youngest grandson Mad Max and his parents and surfing some fun waves on the point from midweek through last weekend.

It’s 45 years since I first surfed near-perfect Agnes Point with no more than two or three others in the water over three days of a Coral Sea swell, camped in a double bunk in a fisho shack with my mate PC for a buck a night, old Mrs Jeffery’s peacocks strutting along the beachfront lawn, sitting by a campfire at night sharing prawns and Bundy with old blokes with more stories than remaining teeth, kind of like me now. Stuff like that doesn’t last of course, but I still love Aggie with a passion. It’ll never be the new Noosa, despite what the real estate boosters claim, but I don’t need another Noosa, I need an old and daggy Aggie.

Stockwell opens his new shopping centre there this weekend, cunningly given virtually the same name as the pre-existing one on the other side of the hill. Hope it’s not the beginning of the end, but how often have we heard that!