IT is day one of the 2012 Billabong Pro surfing tournament and Jeffreys Bay residents, surfers, tourists and business owners are excited to experience a fresh angle on the classic competition.
Taking place at the world-famous surfing venue known as Supertubes from today until Sunday, this year’s event features 144 South African and international surfers – more competitors vying for the title than it has ever had in the past.
After a controversial shift in the event’s Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) listings last year from a tournament venue to a qualifying event, the J-Bay competition is now open to a wide array of surfers from different areas of the world, all looking for more points to boost their international rankings and qualify to compete for a world championship title.
This means a newer, fresher take on the classic Billabong Pro format, with 144 professional surfers taking each other on for a South African title, ASP qualifying points, and the prestige of tackling one of the most famous waves in the world.
Still, for the uninitiated, arriving to see groups of four men zipping up and down waves could seem a little chaotic. Surfers are allowed to attempt 10 waves per heat, and their ability on each wave is judged and given a score out of 10. The two best-scoring waves, per surfer are used as their overall score for that heat. Billabong group marketing manager Chad D’Arcy said of the scoring system: "It’s intuitive, watching them out there, and telling what’s a good ride and what isn’t. You can see it.
"The judges travel the world doing this, and have really strict criteria.”
While curious fans flock to the beaches over the coming week, businesses will be taking advantage of the influx of tourism to the small town.
Trawler’s fish and chips shop manager and cashier Melané Micklethwaite said owners at the restaurant were concerned about the event being shortened from 11 to 6 days this year, as tourists and surfers wouldn’t be spending as much time at their store.
"All the surfers here grew up on Trawlers’ chips,” she said. "That’s the secret – tourism is important, but the people here have to need you in order for you to survive, because it gets quiet off season.
"Still, no one’s sure what to expect. There’s always a lot of attention that comes with the competition.”
Garth Robertson, curator at Supertubes’ Surf Art curio shop, said he did not know what to expect from this year’s event. "There’s a lot of anticipation, but we don’t know how big business is going to be.”
Events manager for the competition, Vangie Bottger, said she felt that residents were optimistic and that the event was shaping up to be one of the best ever. "Everything’s got a very ‘Proudly South African’ vibe to it – we’ve sourced a lot of things from local suppliers, and we’re expecting knock-on benefits for the economy.”