Tuesday the world's top female athletes arrived ahead of the women's Corona Open J-Bay, which will take place July 6-16 for the first time in almost 20 years. None of the women currently on Tour have ever competed at J-Bay during a Championship Tour (CT) event and, prior to this week, a number of them had never been to South Africa.
"This is actually my first trip to Jeffreys Bay," said Stephanie Gilmore, the current World No. 2, who's chasing a record-tying seventh World Title. "I think it was love at first sight. Love at first ride for sure. I don't know why I never came here before. Every time I paddle out I ask myself that question. It's true what they say, this wave is everything. It's one of the most spectacular places I've ever been."
In terms of the event, she said, "I don't really have a game plan, I'm just learning. I've always heard that this wave is easy to surf but it's hard to surf well so I'm going to go out there and try to put something beautiful together."
The last time the women's CT competed in J-Bay was in 2000 and Megan Abubo from Hawaii took home the win. Now, Californian Lakey Peterson is sitting at the top of the Jeep Leaderboard with Gilmore just 55 points behind her. The Title race will be intense, especially as we head into the second half of the season.
"Right now, every event is a good opportunity for me to learn whether I win or lose," said Peterson. "I'm definitely going to try to roll with the momentum I have currently. It's been a crazy year so far. I have a good crack at making my dreams come true right now.
"It may not seem like it but Stephanie is probably one of the most competitive surfers on Tour, aside from me," she continued. "I'm trying not to let any of the pressure get to me. It's funny --when I was little I had a poster and Steph signed it for me and she signed my name wrong and now I'm in a Title race with her. I'll never let that go."
Bianca Buitendag was also in attendance at Tuesday's press session. The wildcard is from Victoria Bay, a cove along the West Cape between Jeffreys Bay and Cape Town -- making her one of the more experienced surfers in the lineup.
"We're used to traveling so far away for contests so to be able to drive just three hours down the road -- that's new for me," said Buitendag. "I'm just so happy to have the girls here. It's the best place in the world. To have them all here for two weeks is such a privilege. To be able to surf here without a lot of people and to share that with them, that's the best part."
Tatiana Weston Webb, meanwhile, is currently sitting at No. 3 on the Jeep Leaderboard. The Brasilian who grew up in Kauai has been incredibly consistent this season, making it to the Semifinals in the last four events.
"I'm feeling comfortable with myself this year and the people surrounding me," she said. "I'm making the most of every moment and really enjoying my time in the jersey. I compete the best when I'm relaxed. And it's my first time here in J-Bay. I haven't even had a chance to surf it yet. It's one of those places though, where you almost can't believe it."
Johanne Defay is currently coming off of her win at the Uluwatu CT and sitting at No. 5 on the Jeep Leaderboard.
"We keep going from good waves to good waves," she said. "I'm hoping I can keep some momentum going into this event. There's so many tactical, mental and physical aspects to this sport. It gets hard to piece all that together. I'm definitely going to try my best. I'm from Reunion Island, which isn't too far from here. I came to visit Bianca Buitendag a few times here. I haven't really mastered this wave yet though so I'm going to try to understand it a bit more."
The women's Corona Open J-Bay will kick off July 6. Watch live daily on Worldsurfleague.com and Facebook.