Jordy Smith's world title hopes got a boost Wednesday with a huge win at the Hurley Pro - his second career victory at Lower Trestles. The big South African showcased his wide-ranging repertoire of power, flow and flair to get past Filipe Toledo and Joel Parkinson on the final day of competition.
Smith's surfing was incredibly loose and limber all week, but he had a huge obstacle in front of him during his semifinal match with Toledo on Wednesday morning.
"I've had a really good surfboard under my feet this event," Smith said. "I came into the event with an open mind. I missed it last year when the waves were firing so I just wanted to come in and take it heat by heat."
During the first three days of competition, Toledo was the dominant force, averaging two points more than all other surfers on his total heat scores. During Toledo's highly anticipated Monday match with Kelly Slater, the Brazilian sent a huge message when he comboed the 6x event champion in crumbly afternoon conditions.
But conditions improved Wednesday, with a fresh pulse of swell and cleaner conditions that leveled the playing field for Jordy, the big man. Smith knew his only shot at taking out Toledo involved waiting patiently for set waves.
Playing that game is easier said than done. Jordy had to sit out the back and listen to beach commentators buzz and fans cheer while Filipe nabbed waves under priority and let loose. Toledo jumped out to an early lead with his mix of massive aerials and crisp turns, but none of them allowed for multiple strong moves. His biggest score, an 8.33, came by way of a massive, one-maneuver aerial reverse.
When the sets finally came Jordy unleashed, reminding everyone of his power-voltage and his knack for releasing his tail. Like a surfer half his weight, he linked moves with remarkable fluidity, between belting away with heavyweight turns. Smith's two scoring waves were an 8.00 and a 9.23, earning him huge a 17.23 to 14.25 victory over Toledo.
"I had a few mistakes in that heat," Toledo said. "The one wave where Jordy went right and I went left, I should've stayed out back for priority. I would've gotten the second wave of the set where he got the 8. I think that one mistake was it for me, but I'm happy with third place."
The second Semifinal heat was a much closer affair.
Joel Parkinson and Tanner Gudauskas had a similar storyline, with Gudauskas jumping out to an early lead. Tanner, the hometown hero, got going in a hurry. He leaned on his lethal backside attack to bag a 7.50 and a 6.27 before Parko even had a score on the board.
Sitting out the back in a combination situation, things looked bleak for Parko 10 minutes into the heat...and then his opportunity came. Joel speared the lip and attacked the long wall with his signature carves. He was rewarded with an 8.00. After that it was a horse race to the finish, with both Parko and Gudauskas taking shots. When all the spray landed and the buzzer blew, Parko ended up with a narrow win, 14.43 to 14.33.
The impressive showdown earned both surfers a huge encore cheer from the appreciative crowd.
"My whole mantra this entire event has just been either make the heat or go down swinging with everything you have," said Gudauskas. "I feel like that was kind of a testament to that. I'm stoked, and good on Parko -- he's literally one of my favorite surfers and to have that heat with him at Lowers was as good as it gets."
The Final clash between Jordy and Joel was interesting on a couple of levels. Both are former winners at Trestles, which is proving to be a stingy spot to win. They're both big blokes, indeed some of the biggest on Tour, yet their oversized frames were used to their advantage even in the small California conditions. Joel and Jordy also begin every season as title contenders.
While Parkinson jumped to No. 6 with his runner-up finish, he remains on the outside looking in when it comes to this year's title race -- a full 13,000 points behind John John Florence.
"I really fell in love with this wave and this town in 2004," Parkinson said. "This year was another wonderful one at Trestles and I'm really happy to be back here and on the podium. It feels really good."
Jordy, on the other hand, is looking like a much more legitimate threat now that he's only 6,000 points behind John John. He's jumped past Adrian Buchan to No. 4 on the Jeep rankings and as the Tour heads to France, he's fewer than 2300 points behind Gabriel Medina and Matt Wilkinson.
"If I can be in with a shot at the World Title this year, that will be great," continued Smith. "Europe can go either way so I'm just going to try my hardest and see how it goes."