It has been a long time since Jordy Smith has had a run like he experienced in 2016. A blast onto the Championship Tour saw him quickly rise to second in the world in 2010, but injuries and other external situations saw his World Title hopes all but stymied. "When I was younger I learned how to win," said Jordy, possibly alluding to his Qualifying Series win in 2007, and maybe his World Junior Championship win the same year. "After that I had to learn how to lose."
It wasn't all bad though. He managed a very satisfying run of back-to-back wins at J-Bay in 2010 and 2011. Although he was always in the neighborhood of good results, he was never able to find a massive streak, which would see him get to that special zone reserved for World Champions and World Champion hopefuls.
He soon backed his career up with a win in Rio however, a win at Trestles, and some very cool claims along the way. A couple of movies - Bending Colors and some b-roles, as well as a few sessions at the African Kirra, he was far from off the radar but he still wasn't achieving the lofty heights that he had been tagged for. ‘Multiple World Championships,' was where Kelly put his trajectory when he launched on the tour, and many thought it was his destiny.
"I found out a lot about diet and nutrition, and taking care of myself," said Jordy of his approach to life and his career the last year or so, even though he was dogged with that nasty knee injury last year from that tearaway air in Western Australia. Then he started the baby steps, and finally things started happening. "I felt that if I improved parts of my life and my surfing in little bits, then they would add up and it would be positive," explained Jordy. "So I kind of aimed at improving my boards by ten percent, and then my fitness by ten percent, as well as my diet by ten percent. All in, that would be a thirty percent total improvement, for a start. That was the theory anyway."
Theory or not, it worked, and an injury-free Jordy suddenly found himself in a World Title conversation. Not before some controversy though. In very unusual conditions, Jordy was not satisfied with the J-Bay situation this year. It was a strange heat, with Jordy and John John sitting too far up the point. Good waves were hitting the end section, but the two of them played a little badgering game at the top before repositioning themselves down towards the Impossibles section and a late heat flurry of waves.
"Over scored on his late wave," was what an irate Jordy said of John's win in an out-of-character show of bristling emotion, which was exacerbated by the fact that Commissioner Perrow called the contest off for the day immediately afterwards.
Jordy's macro-scale game plan, based much on what Slater achieved, is to get certain waves so dialed in that he has a distinct advantage over his competitors with knowledge and experience. He has it in J-Bay and Trestles. He also has great experience and knowledge in Rio, but he wants to get more of it in Hawaii.
I feel like I had a real connection and relationship with Sunset Beach a few years ago, but for the last six or seven years I couldn't do a thing right out there.
"I feel like I had a real connection and relationship with Sunset Beach a few years ago, but for the last six or seven years I couldn't do a thing right out there," Smith said after winning this year's Vans World Cup Of Surfing at Sunset. "This year my boards felt good, and I was getting all the right waves out there, and I was having so much fun. I kinda went out there with an open mind as well."
It has taken Jordy a few years to work things out to this extent however. "With maturity comes a lot of things and I think I have wizened up with my competitive surfing, and now I'm just trying to learn as much as I can. I've got Chris Gallagher in my corner. And just having positive people around me. That's a big thing for me."
The optimism worked. In the final event of the year, the Billabong Pipe Masters, Jordy managed a fifth place finish. That pushed Smith into second place on the final 2016 Jeep Leaderboard rankings, his best finish since 2010.
While the road to the world title gets tougher every year there's no question a healthy Smith is a serious threat in 2017.