With 18 scores of nine points or more, the 2015 J-Bay Open has seen its fair share of fireworks already. Still, the contest's most anticipated heat so far unfolds in Round 4, and features three World Champions: 11-time Champ Kelly Slater (USA), three-time Champ Mick Fanning (AUS), and reigning World Champion Gabriel Medina (BRA).
The good news for them? Nobody will be going on safari after. Round 4 is non-elimination, so the winner will advance directly to the Quarters. The runner-up and third-place surfers will have another shot in Round 5. (See the full Round 4 rundown.)
Of the three surfers, Fanning is arguably the frontrunner based on his results so far this year -- not to mention being the defending event champion. He's currently ranked World No. 3 on the Jeep Leaderboard, and won the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach earlier this year. Despite not having had a flashy season -- two ninth-place finishes and one thirteenth isn't exactly thrilling -- he's still outpacing his superheat competitors.
Slater to date is having one of the worst competitive years of his career. He currently sits at World No. 11, a rare instance in which he's not only out of the Title discussion, but also out of the Top 10. And yet, you don't win 11 Titles without a certain magic. Slater's signature, competitive zeal has been back in full effect for the event in Jeffreys Bay, which he has won four times.
In Round 1, Slater essentially won the heat on his first two waves. That reenergized Champ was back for Round 3, where he defeated Kolohe Andino (USA) with his surgical precision and prescient wave selection. After his troubled season start, Slater will be doing everything he can to avoid another early exit.
Similarly, Medina appears to be back in form. After a lackluster season that shocked competitors, commentators and fans alike, he earned three nine-point rides during Round 3. Currently ranked No. 20, his unique mix of creativity and flawless execution has largely been missing from his performances so far in 2015. But based on performances like this, this and this, it seems that the wunderkind finally has his groove back.
Tune in for the next call and potential Round 4 start Thursday at 7:30 a.m. local time here, and on the WSL App.