As dawn in broke in South Africa we'd bet there were not many competitors, spectators or surf fans who looked at the flawless J-Bay lineup and started contemplating chaos theory and the butterfly effect. Those mathematical theories explain how a small change in one dynamic system can cause large differences in a later state. The original example used was that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas.
If you are still with us, chaos, tornadoes and butterfly flaps seemingly had little to do with J-Bay; its dynamic state looked pretty much perfect. However once the humans got involved the theory could be applied.
That Brazilian butterfly flapping its wings came in the form of Wiggolly Dantas in the opening exchange of Round One, Heat 1, setting into motion a series of unfortunate events. Upon exiting a deep, high-line tube not often completed by backhanders at Supers, Dantas claimed the barrel with an exuberant fist pump claim, then watched in horror as his fins washed out on his bottom turn, flailing into the wave mid-face. He had turned a 9-plus ride into a 7.60. In some corners, they call it a rush of blood to the head. In the States, they call it a brain fart. Dantas will get a chance to exercise his frustrations against teammate Ezekiel Lau in Round Two.
Then there was the moment when Josh Kerr fell on his second turn needing a small score at the end of his heat. It was that minor mistake that cost what would have been only his second heat win of the year. He now goes into Round Two up against perennial J-Bay standout Julian Wilson. Another loss will ripple through his confidence and further derail what has been his worst competitive year in a decade.
Or what about when rookie Frederico Morais, needing a 5.90 to overcome Adriano de Souza, gave up on a tapering wall that nonetheless still had the possibility of a few small turns? The score came in at 5.80. That split-second decision to kick out will have repercussions. It might not lift a barn up 300 yards in the air in Texas, but it puts the Portuguese in a sudden death heat against fellow rookie Ian Gouveia. Wider than his own competitive sphere it also meant ADS joined John John as the only member of the clustered World Title top five contenders with a direct path to Round Three. If Wilko, Owen or Jordy lose in Round Two, that could be huge for the Brazilian.
Conner Coffin's performance too, one of the Round's strongest, may reverberate for a while. At the very least the energy released from of his one end section carves will nudge a Richter scale needle somewhere in the Pacific in a few day's time. Closer to home it sent the event and crowd favorite Jordy Smith into a sudden death matchup with local wildcard Dale Staples in the first heat of Round Two. That means Smith has drawn the one guy with more lineup experience than himself. Coffin said afterwards that Jordy has been his favorite surfer since he was a kid, but that didn't stop him from injecting some serious chaos into the Corona Open J-Bay and Smith's World Title campaign.
By the end of the day, 12 heats had been surfed, the surf remained perfect and no surfers had been knocked out. But make no mistake, today's surfing was impressive and important. Individual performances at both ends of the scale will have long-lasting implications. The perfection isn't about to end. Neither is the chaos. Every heat matters, every turn counts. Bring on Round Two.