Kelly Slater and Mick Fanning are on different paths this year, but the longtime rivals, who hold 14 world championships and seven J-Bay titles between them, have aligned their agendas in Jeffreys Bay. The cagey veterans may have finally accepted the notion of being out of title contention, but down in J-Bay they've dampened a lot of the "disruption" talk that's dominated the narrative this year.
Heading into this event Mick's murky retirement and Kelly's early-season meltdowns fit the underlying storyline: that a new dawn has arrived on the CT.
J-Bay, however, is often judge and jury to such theories.
Supertubes, you see, begs to be ridden in classic form. Those who ride this hallowed point best are never forgotten, e.g. Tom Curren at J-bay in the early 90s. Though it's been nearly 25 years since Curren rode his first wave there, his performance is still used as a measuring stick.
Surf fans get this, which is why Slater -- slump and all -- is owned by 91 percent of Fantasy Surfing players this week. Fanning, even coming off an ankle injury, is owned by 74 percent. And as of now their customers have no regrets.
Mick, Kelly, and Jeffreys Bay are doing a good job of restoring order to the rankings as well. It's worth noting there's not a rookie or replacement surfer left in the bunch heading into the final day of competition.
Theoretically, Mick and Kelly could meet in Final, but they both have huge obstacles in front of them. Kelly would have to get past Josh Kerr and John John; Mick past Filipe Toledo and either Julian Wilson or Gabe Medina. Every one of them's a mind blower.
Supertubes, however, is an enormously demanding wave. While progression is always welcome it's usually only an option after adhering to the wave's speed, power, and flow, which can be tricky.
Strong offshore breezes (common in these parts) will ground even the best aerial assaults, putting the basic essentials back in the spotlight. Any weakness in the basics is immediately exposed and magnified by J-Bay's exacting requirements.
Both Kerr and Toledo are proven aerial aces, so the champs will have their hands very full in the next round if the wind goes onshore and provides launch pads.
But if the elements are foreboding, and the wind is offshore, they needn't worry about an attack from above, because their heats won't be decided by picks or pokes. It will come down to the enduring allure of slashing, cutting, and carving. And if that's the case, they have a good chance to restore some order.