By now Billabong's very public financial problems and the dropping of their South Africa World Tour property are yesterday's news. Today's news is that the ASP's short South African leg has kicked off with the Mr. Price Pro in Ballito. The biggest bummer this month is that we won't get to see Cape Town's Sean Holmes upsetting World Title contenders in blistering right-handers. Though we should note that Holmes could still be marking rounds -- perhaps even more than usual with less elite competitors in the water.
The Mr. Price Pro used to be the warm up before the big World Tour event. The Billabong Pro at J-Bay had run for 14 consecutive years. This year, however, the script has been flipped. Due to the downgrading of one of the world's dreamiest point break events, the Mr. Price Pro, an ASP Prime, is now the big ticket. And the upside of Cape Town losing the Slater/Tour prestige is that a slew of South Africans will now get a chance to surf the J-Bay event, which is open to 144 surfers.
If there's one thing that local Jordy Smith didn't need, it was dropping his beloved home country event from the Tour. Smith surfed brilliantly to get two emotional wins at J-Bay in 2010 and 2011 (plus Mr. Price in 2010.) Currently, the once heralded heir to Slater's throne is No. 8 in the world. That's by no means a schlep season given the way the established Fanning/Parkinson/Burrow firepower has performed this year. But he's let upstarts Josh Kerr, Adriano de Souza and John John Florence (who weren't even in the picture when Smith signed his historic contract) outshine him this year.
"I haven't had the greatest year and I think it will be good to go home and regroup and rebuild my confidence for the second half of the year," Smith told the ASP this week, "I've be in Reunion doing some board testing prior to the Pro as the waves are similar to Ballito (hollow right-handers), so I got a lot of practice and am coming in fresh for the contest and hopefully win it."
So is Jordy Smith's loss Mark Occhilupo's gain? This is everyone's favorite story -- the second (or third, or is it fourth?) coming of Mark Occhilupo. I can't keep track. He won the inaugural ASP event at J-Bay in 1984, some 15 years before the air reverse came into play. Having an unexpected post-post-retirement run at the age of 46, Occ is sitting in the No. 40 slot. Although he did lose to Tom Curren in the Clash of the Icons three years ago at J-Bay, he has a boatload of experience here and the chance for some points that could put him in the actual running for requalification in 2013.
Here's what's interesting: everyone wanted to see Rip Curl give Occhilupo a wildcard at Bells earlier this year. With all that love, Billabong might have given their longtime team rider a wildcard into J-Bay. But by ASP rules, a World Tour event wildcard can't earn points toward qualification in said event. But he obviously can now that it's a six-star.
In Mr. Price Pro round of 96 action today, the South Africans went on a rampage. Perennial bubble boy, Travis Logie won his heat with fellow countryman Beyrick De Vries taking second. Shaun Joubert and Chad du Toit also advanced. The surf was weak and inconsistent, as opposed to last year's opening round caverns. The day was called after just nine heats.
Surfing star gazers and autograph hounds can take solace in the fact that handful of World Tour surfers will still be competing and heading to the wild animal parks in South Africa this year. Of course, Patrick Gudauskas won the Mr. Price Pro last year and is back. The Hobgoods twins, Brett Simpson, Adam Melling, Tiago Pires, Matty Wilkinson, Alejo Muniz, Jadson Andre, and Yadin Nicol will still represent the Tour. And it could be an interesting two events.