The Billabong Pro finished on a rising swell and J-Bay absolutely pumped for the next couple of days. From a photographer and filmmaker's point of view you couldn't ask for too much more, clear blue skies, perfect light, clean long lines wrapping into one of the best right hand point breaks in the world and some of the best surfers in the world tearing them apart.
The line up over these days ranged from legendary Shaun Tomson through to guys like Andy Irons, Kelly Slater and a young Jody Smith even Australian, Daniel Thompson, who was still an underground Shaper but would within a year or so hit the world scene as the guy behind the Tomo surfboard label.
These free surf sessions provided the backbone for a couple of films as well.
Japanese surfing tragic Takuji Masuda was in Jeffreys Bay filming for his Bunker77 Production about the life of American Bunker Spreckels. Bunker was Clark Gable's step son and heir to a sugar fortune who became a controversial surf star during the late 60s into the 70s.
Masuda was trying to replicate original footage of Spreckels on a twin fin fish flying down the line at J-Bay by filming Donavon Frankenreiter, who was also in town for Taylor Steele's Drive Thru South Africa. Donavon was perfect casting with his long hair, rangy build and sublime surfing driving down the line on a retro twin fin in the pumping surf.
Despite Kelly and Andy being on the World Tour together for a number of years they hadn't surfed many Man on Man heats against each other. Coming into J-Bay, they were the Top Seeds for the Event and one of the exciting things to see and photograph was that they had back to back heats with Kelly surfing first in the top half of the draw and Andy following in the next heat as the Top Seed in the bottom half of the draw. With this Seeding and contest format you could watch and shoot their different styles and the lines they drew to attack the waves. Kelly was more big tail sliding turns on the face while Andy was tighter in the pocket and using his trademark floaters to run the sections.
Kelly had an edge in the heats and definitely looked destined for the Final while Andy was doing enough to keep winning and was content to let Kelly have the limelight. Former winner Joel Parkinson and fellow Aussie Bede Durbidge were probably the other surfers standing out with the lines they were drawing with on-rail carving top to bottom turns on the open face, both bringing their Queensland point break game to J-Bay. Bede lost to Kelly in the Quarters and Parko was also knocked out in the Quarters by local hero Greg Emslie.
A Magic Simon
Simon Anderson had made a few boards for Kelly and in 2005 he brought one to J-Bay. In free surfing sessions he was swapping between his normal Channel Island boards and an Anderson shaped board with a black 'S' logo on the rail. He rode it right though to victory and the board could quite easily fall into the ‘magic board' category with Kelly notching up two more wins on it in the next eight months; one at the Boost Mobile Pro at Trestles a month or so later and at the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach the following Easter and ‘maybe' even at Teahupo'o according to Kelly.
"I'm always looking for that magic one," said Kelly in an interview years later. "… it was probably the Simon Anderson I had in 2005. I won events at Lowers, J-Bay, Bells and I think Teahupo'o on that board. I forgot that I had given it back to Simon afterward and searched my storage for about a year or two wondering where it had gone."
Quiksilver had also made him a startling white wetsuit which he rocked right through the J-Bay Event. Not many people could get away with wearing a white suit and wetsuit manufacturers hate white because it is so incredibly hard to keep clean. White stood out against the dark cold water of J-Bay but it didn't become a ‘magic wetsuit' and I'm sure wetsuit manufacturers were very happy about that.
Drive through South Africa
In mid 2005 Taylor Steele put together a team of surfers to hit South Africa for another instalment of his ‘Drive Thru' Video series. He timed the filming to coincide with the South African Pro Surfing Events in Durban and Jeffreys Bay.
Taylor filled the trademark motorhome with some regulars like Benji Weatherley, Donavon Frankenreiter and Pat O'Connell who were teamed up with a couple of Drive Thru newbies, Nathan Noodles Webster and Mike Lossness. Taylor also roped in Martin Potter as a wildcard and tour guide for the two week filming schedule traveling along the South African coastline.
The Drive Thru crew arrived in J-Bay just as the waiting period kicked off and filmed four legged African animals as they waited for surfing conditions to improve. They didn't have to wait long as the contest kicked into gear with some classic conditions and was run very quickly.
The surf actually improved after the contest ended and the way it is with travel plans and pro surfers, the line up at J-Bay for the two days after the contest was packed with some of the best surfers on the planet. The finished film includes these epic sessions and features some amazing surfing from Kelly who was hot off his win and the legendary Shaun Tomson styling his way along the J-Bay walls.
Brother vs Brother
In 2005 Andy was the defending World Champion with three back to back World Titles and was still in incredible form. His heats through the J-Bay event had been low key but always putting in enough to move to the next round, almost like a pool hustler, not really showing his true form until it was needed.
There was a lot of expectations surrounding his Round Four heat against brother Bruce. With Bruce you never knew what you were going to get but in the J-Bay free surf sessions he looked sharp and focused. Their head to head heat record in ASP CT's stretched back 5 years with Bruce leading the heat wins 2:1. Unfortunately the much anticipated clash turned into an anti-climax when a long lull through the middle of the heat had the brothers sitting side by side sitting out the flat spell. Andy had managed to put a couple of scores on the board early making the head to head count 2:2.
Game Reserve Media Visit
Jeffreys Bay in the Eastern Cape area of South Africa is a pretty special place to visit, not only for the surf but also for its close proximity to some of South Africa's best Game Reserves who offer Day and Overnight Safari's to see Africa's Big 5 along with many other Wildlife animals and birds.
On one of the lay days during the 2005 Contest, we were lucky to be invited as part of Media to the Pumba Private Game Reserve, about 2 hours drive north of J-Bay.
We were invited to spend the night at Pumba in one of their sensational Lodges with a Game Drive in the afternoon and another early next morning. During the afternoon drive we were able to photograph Elephants, Lions, Giraffes and Zebra, some of whom were very up close and personal. The Lodges we were going to spend the night in were located along a wooden boardwalk that stretched out either side of the main lodge and overlooked a big lake with Hippos hanging on the bank.
As dinner was wrapping up that night, one couple quickly returned to our table babbling that they couldn't get to their room because there were Elephants on the boardwalk. Cautiously and with a slight sense of trepidation we all followed the Manager outside to find the Elephants, (which roam free through the Reserve), eating the thatch roof of our lodge which was at the end of the boardwalk. We accompanied the Manager along the walkway figuring I'd get a few photos and we were only a few meters away when the Bull Elephant decided he didn't like us up so close and started flapping his ears, roaring and grumbling.
At that display, I asked the Manager what we should do and he replied, "I'm not sure, I've only been here six weeks and this has never happened before. Maybe we should go back to the restaurant and wait." So we did, walking backwards very slowly. We discussed the exhilarating encounter at the Bar until the herd moved off about half an hour later. When we finally arrived at the door of our Lodge, huge chunks of the thatch were missing from the roof. An incredible ‘Joli' memory whilst on Safari and luckily with photographic proof to show and tell.
Andy wearing his heart on his sleeve
My vivid memories of the 35 minute final between Andy and Kelly are actually the very last few minutes of the heat and then the Presentation Ceremony.
The conditions for the Final were solid six foot and incoming tide which was bringing in bigger sets. The wind was not quite right making for some very bumpy conditions, especially in the latter part of the heat. With just a couple of minutes to go, Andy who had led for most of the heat took a set wave and rode right down though Supers to the key hole scoring an 8 plus result. Andy figured it was enough, he knew he couldn't get back into the line up in time so started to come into the beach through the keyhole.
He thought he'd won by showing better wave selection and his best surfing of the event and so did I. As I started down the beach, to get the shot of him being chaired up the beach, I remember I was half way down to Andy when I heard the beach commentators screaming about Kelly taking off. I stopped and turned to watch Kelly drive off the bottom through the chop and proceed to hit the lip 3-4 times before landing a close-out floater. I turned to look at Andy who was just standing at the keyhole watching. Kelly needed a low 9 and when the commentator read out 9.5 and a win for Kelly, the beach erupted. Kelly was sitting in the water punching the air while Andy trudged up the beach furious with the score and the loss.
On the Presentation Stage, Andy's body language summed up his frustration, partly with himself and partly with the judges. It was reported later that Andy discussed the outcome of the Final with Perry Hatchett, the Head Judge and eventually calmed down after a few hours.
A few weeks later Kelly and Andy met in the Final of the very next WCT, the Quiksilver Pro in Japan, where Andy reversed the result with a Win which could have helped soften the blow of the J-Bay loss.
The country feeling dream sequence 1991
Having been to J-Bay numerous time which is also one of my favourite places on Tour, I must mention my very first trip in 1991. Derek Hynd put together a contest called The Country Feeling Dream Sequence. Cheron Kraak, ‘the unofficial mayoress of J-Bay' and founder of Country Feeling label had naming rights. The contest site headquarters was a caravan in the sand dunes. The surfers and media all received a Country Feeling Contest ‘Hoodie' with artwork of a dog and the event slogan read "Dreams are Free; Love your Dog". I still have the sweater and I still don't understand the slogan.
The contest format was invitation only, surfers had three chances to surf in a round-robin kind of heat draw. I have photos of Derek wandering around the dunes with a clipboard in his hand but there were no scores, no prize money, the winner would get a block of land. I'm not sure how it was judged but obviously some sort of an assessment came at the end.
From memory and my images Matt Hoy, Damien Hardman and Luke Egan dominated the 4'+ conditions. Luke with his knock-kneed backhand style smashing the lip again and again taking out first place. First prize was definitely original, a plot of land on the hillside overlooking the J-Bay line up. Once the presentation was over at the caravan, complete with Luke signing the Deed of Ownership we all headed up the hill to the plot for beers and BBQ or Brai as it's called in South Africa. The last time I checked with Luke, he still owns that plot of land.