Aussies on top at J-Bay

Magical J-Bay lineup for finals day. Photo WSL.

I wish I had a buck for every time I’ve written surfing’s changing of the guard story.

The first time was in 1969 when Midget Farrelly and Nat Young had retired from competition only to bounce back as soon as there was a sniff of money on the table a few years later.

Next I wrote it for Surfer Magazine in 1978 when teenagers Tom Carroll and Cheyne Horan looked like leaving the likes of Rabbit Bartholomew and Mark Richards in their tracks, and the following year MR started his four year reign as world champion, completely dominating the sport.

So you can see, it’s a mug’s game, but after being rivetted to the screen throughout the three afternoons and nights of the Corona Open at Jeffrey’s Bay, South Africa, here I go again.

In the most exciting event of the year so far, the faultless rail work of Straddie’s Ethan Ewing just trumped the pure explosion of Margaret River’s Jack Robinson, but it was Australia who was the big winner. Granted, Brazil’s Filipe Toledo is still wearing the yellow jersey at the top of the rankings going into the last event at Teahupo’o before the finals series, but if it’s proper Chopes, I’d back both of the Aussies to finish ahead of Fil and go into the finals with a massive confidence boost.

As it is, it is almost impossible for Jack to miss out on final five from this point, and extremely unlikely that Ethan will. It’s just a shame that the finals series will again be held at Lower Trestles which is almost sure to be three to four feet, glassy in the morning and onshore in the afternoon, which suits Toledo’s speed and air game perfectly. Imagine if the finals were going to be held at Pipeline or Cloudbreak – you’d almost give Jack the title now.

But on the men’s tour, we’re suddenly in the strongest position we’ve enjoyed for quite a few years.

It’s almost a decade since an Australian won the men’s title, mostly thanks to the rising tide of the Brazilian Storm, who last year took out the top three spots. If we haven’t quite seen a changing of the guard yet, we’ve certainly seen a generational change since Mick Fanning held the trophy aloft in 2013. Now we’ve got Jack and Ethan almost at the top of the pile with Callum Robson and a reborn Connor O’Leary not far behind them, with another three Aussies looking good to qualify through the Challenger Series.

Meanwhile, in the women’s ranks it’s not looking quite so bright, with Steph Gilmore our only top fiver at the moment, although Tyler Wright is still in touch at seventh and, if Chopes is giant, she might well scrape into the finals.

Further down the list Sunny Coaster Isabella Nichols has put in some good performances and should requalify for 2023.

In the Challenger Series, Molly Picklum, Nicky Van Dijk, Macy Callaghan and Bronte Macaulay also have a good chance of making the cut for next year.

But getting back to J-Bay, there were some incredible performances all around, particularly from the Brazilian goofy-footers.

However, nothing could take the shine off Ethan and Jack whose surfing just seemed to grow in stature with their progress through the rounds, culminating in a final that could have gone either way right up to the buzzer.

After the State of Origin decider you’d think live sport couldn’t have got any better, and then it did.

Vale Barry Bennett

The curtains are closing quickly now on the Brookvale Six, with another leading member of that elite club of surfboard pioneers passing away in Sydney last week.

Barry Bennett departed peacefully at 91 to join the illustrious gang already in the great shaping room in the sky, including our own Bill Wallace, Scott Dillon, Greg McDonagh, and associates of the Six, Joey Larkin and Midget Farrelly.

When Shaun Cairns and I made our award-winning documentary film Men of Wood and Foam six years ago, we wanted to capture the amazing story of the birth of the Australian surfboard industry while its leading players were still with us, but we didn’t realise how quickly the ranks would thin.

An electrician by trade, Barry started building hollow boards in his garage at Bronte on Sydney’s east side before moving to Harbord in 1958 and subsequently establishing Barry Bennett Surfboards in Brookvale, just down the road from where the vast BB factory is today.

Although his early Brookvale boards were balsa, Barry was the first of the Australian manufacturers to move into poly-foam construction, and by the early 1970s, his Dion Chemicals subsidiary was supplying foam blanks for almost the entire industry.

Known as a hard man in business, Barry also became famous for supplying elastic lines of credit to many of the opposition surfboard brands whenever they were doing it tough financially.

A tireless worker long after he needed to be, Barry would be in the shaping bay at dawn most days, and continued to put in daily appearances at the factory into his 90s. A life well lived, BB!

He is survived by Margaret, his wife of more than 60 years, sons Greg and John, daughter Cathy and six grandchildren.