JORDY SMITH / CHANGING THE STARS
By Simon Nicholson
As South African’s, we love to hate…don’t ask me why, we all do it, its not often we get a real kick out of seeing our fellow countrymen succeed. When they do, well then, that’s what we expected, isn’t it. Cynical pessimists.
I’ll admit it, I was a late comer to the Jordy Smith Fan Club, not that I didn’t like the kid, he was always quiet, really polite, friendly and respectful, unlike some of the punks he grew up around. I just never saw him do anything that blew me away really, typical SA syndrome. I guess through the early years of his career, he was really small and I never took much notice, while I was away on tour he started growing, started winning and I was unaware of those consequences.
Then he started getting big results, I never really saw the surfing that was responsible for the victories, but the events he was winning spoke volumes of the kind of surfing he had to be doing, ozzie pro juniors, world junior champs, world amateur champs, the victories were coming thick and fast… but hadn’t witnessed the power and the glory first hand, therefore I did not believe.
It was an autumn morning down at the piers in Durban when Jordy Smith went straight to the top of my idols pile…
2007, The Quiksilver Pro at New Pier, Durban, I had one of those VIP passes and I was eating more than my share of the snacks, waiting for the first quarterfinal… Jordy vs Neco Padaratz. Neco, one of the most intimidating competitors in pro surfing history, the guy looks like a escaped convict, literally on the run, he growls and snarls, trips on acids for fun during events.. he is a psycho. He also opens with a pair of 8.5’s before jordy catches a wave. I’m gutted. Jordy is combo’d. Oh well, my world is still the same, Davey is up next… maybe he can go all the way. Jordy is paddling for a set, he is 19 years old, it’s a solid wave, Jordy is going to teach me a lesson I will never forget… to climbs to his feet, double pumps off the bottom and launches into the biggest front side air I have ever seen in my life, let alone in competition, lands clean on the face and destroys the rest of the wave. 10 point ride. It’s the first time I actually see the future of surfing. He backs it up with an easy 9.4 and now the old guard is combo’d and irrelevant. Nothing in Neco’s arsenal can compare, the heat is over before it is over. My world had changed.
The best of the best have something special that makes them that way, Fanning’s speed , Parko’s style, Taj’s airs, Andys unpredictable greatness… but for the first time since Slater, Jordy brings numerous qualities…all of the above. And to polish it all off, an ability to rise to the occasion when it counts most, and in the world of competitive sports, that is the stuff of legend. “I have always been the class clown, trying to impress everyone, I guess I am a showman at heart, hahaha”. “In heats I will always super amped up by the crowd once I have got 2 scores on the board, I really see value in that, entertaining people”
His airs are bigger and more cleanly stuck than anybody, which on the cutting edge of modern surfing, is the frontier of the future. His backhand I feared, as with many spoilt South African natural footers in the land of the right point, was potential weakness, something that could be a exploited by his rivals during World Tour events of left hand consequence, that fear was quickly removed when The Modern Collective exposed Jordy’s ability to bring the same futuristic approach to his backside, backside superman? A first ever? Probably. Jordy is bringing that to the tour, and changing the judging criteria in the process
“I thought that was underscored, nobody’s ever done that in a heat before, even a free surf” he ponders as he thinks back to the Search Final of 2010 against Slater. “its never going to be perfect, but still the judges are scoring a lot better, they probably getting a little carried away with the slob air now, it’s the flavor at the moment, I think its hard, we are just kinda inventing some of these turns ourselves, so it will take time before the judges know what’s hard vs what’s easy.”
Even Slater is taking notes of ‘Generation Jordy’ for his new inspired aerial approach. He is one of the few of the old guard who is keeping up… his full rotation in New York against taj is a best ever for him, and Jordy doesn’t miss a beat… as his tweet went… @kellyslater guess you can teach an old dog new tricks…” A compliment with twist of the knife, but relenquishes “he surfed really good in that event”
I ask Jordy about the Slater phenomenon, a guy that Jordy worshipped as a grom, and now is fighting for world titles, surely that has an effect on him? “I guess in the first half of last year it was weird, I almost felt like getting his autograph after each heat type of thing, but now its like…F&%k this guy, I don’t give a fuck how many world titles he has, I just want to smash him! I have built up a wall, like a defense thing, where I just focus on myself, I don’t hate him or anything like that, I just want to beat him. I genuinely want him to stay on tour; he still has so much to offer. I think he is the greatest athlete of all time, surfing wouldn’t be where it is without him, and we owe him big thanks for that.” Credit where credit is most definitely due.
If you have seen Jordy, then you have seen G- force, his dad, and you have probably seen Lu and you definitely noticed his hot sister, Casey. It’s a tight family unit, and there is plenty of public affection. Jordy shows a genuine appreciation for the support his folks have shown him through this early part of his career. He shares his wins with them as if they were an equal part of the success.
“Family is there for you through thick and thin, I owe everything to my folks, they have been there for me every step of the way” “I would be here right now if it weren’t for them”
Lu elaborates “We always insisted on respect for others, no matter how young or old, respect demands respect….and laying a grounding of good basic morals and values pays off….I think if kids have a good grounding, they always carry these out later in life. Both G and I have large families and the interaction with young and old, it gave jordy a good family value system. He is also is somewhat of a spiritual thinker, and so morals and values are high up on his list, which includes respect and honour.”
There were key decisions that played a big role in his grounding, Lu, being a school teacher, knew the importance of Jordy attending school and just leading a normal down to earth childhood , “I made sure that he had a balance, although Jordy kind of found his own balance, when he had to go to school, he went to school, did homework and then headed to the beach after….although he did take a lot of time off school he motivated himself, I guess with a little bit of a push here and there, he really wanted to complete his schooling like everyone else. He never used his talent as an excuse not to attend school, he even used to go to the boarding establishment at night to make sure he caught up with whatever he had missed.”
I get the feeling discipline has been there since the beginning, that is something kids of today don’t place much value on; it’s a vital ingredient in the winning formula. Perhaps something Dane Reynolds missed out on, too evident now as he flip flops through events, unable to commit to the challenge, or buckling under the pressure, whichever way you see it. It makes all the difference at the end. Jordy will be immortalized in the record books, Dane, just another trend that passed.
Jordy has built a solid pit crew around him, his folks, his team manager, Garth Tarlow, his filmer, Blake Kueny, Graham, affectionately known by the boys and most of the world as G-Force. Graham entertains all the sponsor contracts, and assists Jordy with schedules, working on new equipment. Jordy is taking on more of an independent stance regarding heats, Lu does all Jordy’s planning as far as travel, flights, accommodation, visas, as well as looking after his property investments . It’s no easy task, being from South Africa, you need visas for everywhere “the paperwork can sometimes be a nightmare …I have learnt so much through it all….Both G and I also take care of Jordy’s financial affairs” . He has a good team; they take care of the details, so he can focus on the surfing.
That kind of team costs money, Jordy has big money, his contract negotiations were the stuff of legend a few years back, with O’Neill winning the rights to market our boy. And he has delivered, in every department, short of the world title, but hey, he is only 23. So what’s a boy to do with all that cash? “I’m not a big spender, I guess?” he offers, “although I did just buy myself a house in Camps Bay, hahaha”
He may have just splashed out on a home and a new car, but the truth is he hasn’t gone rock star with his loot, “ I have a shoe fetish, its my only weakness… that and spending on my friends, you know, buying drinks at a club, or dinner for the boys. I dig bringing a mate on tour every now and then too, but mainly I spend money on hotel rooms and business class upgrades when I can, hahaha” In all likelihood he will never have a 9-5 job, “ I think it’s easier to be conservative with your money when you don’t come from a lot of money, I am saving you know, cash is king, I would like to open a restaurant or something someday, a place where my mates can hang out, be social, drink coffee, that would be cool”
“He has good property and other financial investments”, says his mom “he is kind of conservative with his money…. and knows the value of money seeing as he has seen how we have had to battle to get him where he is today.”
And now he is in love…with FHM’s Sexiest Woman in South Africa no less. Talk about BMT.
“I saw her at this horse racing event, the Queen’s plate (Craig) Kolesky told me I had no chance, I was like ‘oh ja? Watch this…so keen to prove him wrong, I walked straight up to her and tried to ask her out and tried to get her number, and she shut me down twice, I was gutted. Eventually I got her number from someone else and I sent her a text, and she didn’t replied in a few weeks, so I thought I had no chance. One night at a club she tapped me on the shoulder, I turned around and she kissed me… I was freaking out”
Big money, super model girlfriend, big wins, Jordy’s meteoric rise to the top of world surfing has a similar smell to the early Slater years, we ask not ‘if’ a world title is in the future but rather ‘when’. In fact Jordy’s junior career was far more accomplished than Slater, an amateur world title and a junior world title before the WCT, He won the WQS when he qualified, but when Slater first made it, he snuck in at 43rd spot. Still it seems rather unfair that the same expectations are thrown at our golden child, considering how our previous world champions abandoned the next generation for international waters…the road to the top is unmarked, no Rabbit coaching on Tuesday afternoon, no Barton lynch training camps, or Munga Barry surf schools. Never-the-less, he has risen, he has walked where no South African has walked before, straight into a world title battle with the king himself, seemly at the height of the kings career. In the aftermath of the Jordy/Dane hysteria of the past 2 years, a clear picture has emerged, Dane, unwilling or unable to step up to the plate cannot make to the plane, let alone the podium, and Jordy, 2 World Tour victories, 4 finals, and it seems as if he is only just finding his feet, the answers comes loud and clear from him…
“everyone has their opinion of the tour, they are entitled to it, ever since I was a little kid I wanted to be a world champion, that’s my goal, there is nothing more that I want right now than to be a world champ,.” His tone is direct. Like I just put smelling salts under his nose, he sits up and gets serious. “Once a world champ, always a world champ”. He wants immortality. The discussion shifts to Danes strange behavior over the 2011 season. “Dane probably doesn’t see the value in it (WCT) right now, he’s not winning events, so he feels like there is no point, from a media point of view he is getting left behind, and it’s pretty true, if you are not winning events, you really do get left behind in the media side of things, he is more into his video (sections). He is lucky he is a golden child, not anybody could quit the tour and get paid the same salary”
It has been said, that if you want to succeed, you need to want it as badly as you need air to breathe, Jordy’s hunger to win, is never more apparent than at this year Billabong pro in Tahiti…
Jordy doesn’t come from a background of heavy waves, rather the soft beach break runners of Durban’s city piers that have honed that ridiculous aerial rep, but not 12 foot Tahiti over live coral, you have got to want that with all your heart soul, more than life itself in fact. That’s how hungry Jordy is… you can’t fake that. Sitting deep on the Teahupoo reef and stroking into a triple sucking west peak with minimal chance of escape…that’s pure defiance in the face of millenniums of self preservation instinct. Jordy not only wants the title, but he wants the respect of the world too. He wants the whole package.
But something goes wrong, the consequences of ambition cannot be ignored on this day. He meets Travis in round 3. Travis wants something else, he is so tired of being labeled a good small wave surfer, finally he has the chance to prove what the world tour has hidden for many years… Travis loves big waves.
Jordy explains “ the day before that heat, was the big tow day, I wanted to tow one wave at least, I just want a photo that I could put on the wall at home and stare at…everyone was telling me NO, just leave it, I could have borrowed Laurie Towner’s board and I just wanted to have a go…my manager, and Kelly were just saying ‘don’t do it’ they were pretty adamant not to let me go, so common sense prevailed, so the next morning, it had dropped to ten feet and cleaned up, and I got some crackers early before the contest, I was fired up, in a good position for a world title run, so nothing was going to get in the way of that, no matter how heavy the waves were” “ Before the heat started, Trav and I looked at each other and just kinda smiled, he is so competitive, I knew he was going to go for it, I am not one to lay down, that shit fires me up, so we both started having a go.”
“After the heat was over, then the real pain kicked in, my adrenaline was gone, and this pain just was heavy, and they called the re-surf, I should have just left it there and given Trav a walk thru ,I already felt like I had cheated death, but I didn’t realize how long term the injury was going to be… that second heat, I was crying in the lineup, I couldn’t lay down on my board”.
For me, as a spectator from my phone in the middle of OR Tambo international on a Sunday night, it was one of the proudest moments I have experienced as a South African, watching these two Dairy Beach kids go harder than anyone against each other in massive Teahupoo.
I ask Jordy if (it wasn’t for the injury) he thinks he could have beaten Slater this year… “For sure” he answers without hesitating. He believes it with every ounce of his being.
But Kelly uses situations like this to slingshot himself back into the race, like he wants to rub in that the door has been left open. Jordy was left staring at his computer screen watching Slater and Wright go toe to toe in beach break ramps in New York, and then Trestles, easily what would have been two of Jordy’s strongest events… “it was the hardest point in my life, it was eating me alive watching those 2 events, I was dying inside”
The 3 events jordy is injured for, Slater makes the final. It’s as if he knows it’s his only chance to stop Jordy. He is taking him seriously. Jordy returns before he is fully healed and goes straight to the podium with a 3rd in France, it serves as notice for what might have been.
Jordy quickly directs me to next year… “I am mellow now, the tour is wrapping up, I am looking forward to going home having a little fun, but I am already fuming for the gold coast… next year it’s ON.”
Its out of Jordy’s hands so to speak, Slater has done it for the 11th time.
Jordy elaborates on the morning after the infamous premature crowning of Slater’s title, “ I told him, I tuned Slater, he better not quit after this title, I want my title with him in the running for it, he is too good to quit now and I wanna beat him” . Its classic Jordy big match temperament. No shortcuts.
A world title will be the authentic stamp on a potentially legendary career, if he can overcome Slater while his interest is still there, which it always is when he is ranked number 1, then Jordy will write his name where realistically only two others have in done in Kelly’s historical 20 year reign. To defeat Slater in a genuine title battle, is a mark of greatness that will forever be remembered.
Jordy is not the next Kelly Slater, in the same way nobody is “the next Jordy Smith”. The kids of today must be bold enough to surpass those who have shown the way, believe in themselves enough to cut their own path. Right now Jordy Smith is the real deal. His ability to pull massive maneuvers in the dying seconds of big heats makes him one of the most exciting surfers in the world to watch. A true showman.
He has changed his stars, a kid from Umbilo, who now conquers the world.
He has changed our stars, no more clinging to Martin Potter and Shaun Thompson as our claim to surfing superstardom.
Jordy Smith is our champion