For the past 15 years the Corona Open J-Bay has been dominated by four surfers -- Kelly Slater, Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson and Jordy Smith. Since Mick Fanning's first J-Bay title in 2002, only two other surfers outside this group have laid their hands on the winner's trophy: the late, great Andy Irons in 2004, during one of his three World Title runs; and Taj Burrow in 2007, perhaps the greatest pro surfer never to win a World Title. Slater and Fanning share the record for most event wins, with four each. Parkinson and Smith are the next-closest in line, both with a pair of titles in their trophy cases.
All of which points back to 1977 World Champion and South African legend Shaun Tomson's quote about J-Bay being "easy to surf, but difficult to surf well." To stand out, the wave at Jeffreys Bay requires outstanding surfing, and has long been a barometer of world-class talent. Along with G-Land and Kirra, J-Bay was one of the original events put into play by then-CT Tour Director, Wayne "Rabbit" Bartholomew, back in the mid-1990s during the seminal days of the Dream Tour. Can you guess who won the inaugural event back in 1996? Who else but Kelly Slater.
Slater did most of his damage a decade ago, in the mid-2000s, when he won in 2005 and 2008 and finished runner-up to Burrow in 2007. But, despite his four career wins at J-Bay, Slater hasn't won since 2008 and he's had barely a sniff at a Final since. He's surfed brilliantly at times, he's still Kelly Freakin' Slater, but in the last few years the GOAT's never set off on one of those devastating, rhythmic steamrolls for which he's so famous.
Fanning, on the other hand, has been in every Final since 2011 (the event was not part of the Championship Tour in 2012 or 2013). His loss to Smith in 2011 set into motion his current reign, including his triumphs in 2014 and 2016. Not to mention the now infamous, and unfinished, three-man Final heat between Fanning, a heroic Julian Wilson and an unnamed 12-foot great white shark in 2015. Fanning seems to get better with age at J-Bay and his stats are outstanding: out of a total of 58 heats surfed, his winning percentage is 81 percent, besting Slater at 76 percent.
Next to Fanning, Parkinson's surfing might be the most perfectly suited for the groomed rights at Supertubes. He has the second-most heats surfed at 65 (one less than Slater at 66) and a third-best all-time winning percentage at 71 percent. Parko's love affair with J-Bay began with his win back in 1999 as an 18-year-old wildcard, when he beat Ross Williams in the Final. To put Parko's elite-level longevity into perspective, consider that Williams retired in the mid-2000s and is now current World Champion John John Florence's coach. His last trip to the Final was in 2014, losing out to sparring partner and fellow Coolie Kid Mick Fanning in a tightly contested heat.
Parkinson's influence continues to be felt to this day. As a wide-eyed South African grommet, Jordy Smith watched Parko's out-of-the-blue win as a wildcard in awe. It was a massive inspiration and motivation to the then-11-year-old prodigy surfing the beach breaks of Durban. Prior to a couple of injury-plagued seasons early this decade, Jordy won back-to-back at J-Bay in 2010 and 2011, his first two career victories coming on home soil for the native son. Looking tuned-up and healthier than he has in years, his win this year at Bells, another wave notoriously difficult to surf at a high level, bodes well for the big unit.
Catch Smith, Slater, Fanning, Parkinson and the rest of the Top 32 surf live at J-Bay July 12-23.