JEFFREYS BAY, South Africa (Friday, July 9, 2010) - With less than a week before the commencement of the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay, Stop No. 4 of 10 on the 2010 ASP World Tour, the greatest assemblage of surfing talent in history journeys to South Africa for the next thrilling instalment of the 2010 ASP World Title race and the dramatic mid-year field reduction from the ASP Top 45 to 32.
Kelly Slater (USA), 38, former nine-time ASP World Champion and current ASP World No. 1, has recovered from a slow start (Equal 9th) at the season opener on the Gold Coast with a victory at Bells Beach and a Runner-Up in Brazil to land him in his current No. 1 spot. A threat in any conditions, but especially considering the upcoming events, Slater is poised to make a run at an unprecedented 10th ASP World Title in 2010.
“I feel less pressure this year and that’s a good thing,” Slater said. “I didn’t have what I would call a very good year for myself last year, and this one started out slowly but sped up as I found focus through the injury at Bells. From here on out, I stay aware of what I need to.”
A four-time past champion at the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay (1996, 2003, 2005, 2008), the long righthanders suit the iconic natural-footer’s approach perfectly, and the Floridian is eager to return to the singlet and to elite competition after the lengthy break.
“As far as surfing goes, it’s one of the great performance waves,” Slater said. “It really demands a nice combination of timing and carving and wave judgment. It’s right up there for waves that force you to perform. Guys who’ve won and had good results are always threats. Not usually a surprise to see people’s best there: Jordy (Smith), Dane (Reynolds), Mick (Fanning), Joel (Parkinson), Taj Burrow, etc.”
With the mid-year field reduction of the ASP Top 45 to 32 following the events in South Africa and Tahiti, every surfer on the elite ASP World Title Race is a threat in every heat. The intensity shown throughout the first three events this season has been unprecedented, and as top seed, Slater will draw these hungry opponents early on.
“I’ll be getting a wildcard first,” Slater said. “Then I can deal with that (lower seed intensity) if I get myself through. Wildcards are going to feel pressure and also a sense of urgency. You can only do what you’re comfortable with. It’s easier to make mistakes when you have to perform. We’ll see how they deal with it. Some great performances and a lot of desperate choices could result.”
Slater will face Owen Wright (AUS), 20, and one of the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay Wildcards in Round 1 of competition.
Wright, who handed Slater two high-profile losses in 2009 as a wildcard, has rebounded himself this season with an Equal 3rd in Brazil following two 17ths to start the year. Using the mid-season break to recharge, Wright will be looking to step up his intensity as he journeys to Jeffreys Bay for his first time.
“I’ve just been relaxing and doing trips since Brazil,” Wright said. “I wasn’t focused on staying sharp necessarily, but just enjoying the break. I have been a lower seed in the first three comps this season and I’m not sure if that changed yet, but regardless, I will be keeping the same intensity in the next events even if my seed does change!”
Andy Irons (HAW), 31, former three-time ASP World Champion, will be reunited with South Africa’s iconic righthanders for the first time in two years (following a sabbatical in 2009).
“I’m definitely looking forward to the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay,” Irons said. “It’s one of those spots on tour that everyone gets excited about. It’s one of the better waves on tour – it’s a big, long righthand pointbreak. I’m a regular-footer so I get really excited and I can’t wait. It’s been over a year and a half now. I’m going to go there early. Hopefully get some boards dialed. I can’t wait.”
Despite a stumble in South America, the powerful Hawaiian rebounded at the ASP PRIME 6.0 Lowers Pro the following week with a sensational showing at Lower Trestles – one he hopes will serve as a momentum builder through the mid portion of the season.
“I had a really bad run in Brazil,” Irons said. “I felt like I was surfing well, but I didn’t make my heat and Ben Dunn took me down. Even though I lost early in Brazil, I came into Lowers (ASP PRIME event) with a lot more confidence in my surfing and it ended up paying off.”
Currently ranked No. 23 on the ASP World Title Race rankings, even Irons is not immune to the mid-season field reduction of the ASP Top 45 to 32, but his history at both Jeffreys Bay and Teahupoo serves as a confidence booster.
“The ASP World Ranking is stressful,” Irons said. “They start the season with 45 surfers and they’re going to it down to 32. We only have two more events before that so it’s go time. I’m sitting at No. 23 so it’s pretty stressful, but J-Bay and Tahiti are two of my favourite events so hopefully I can capitalize there and move up the ratings. I’m more of less just surfing my brains out, getting my boards dialed, getting stronger and getting more confident in my surfing so I don’t feel those nerves or stress. As long as I’m confident in my surfing, I know I can go out there and make things happen.”
Irons will take on South America duo of Jadson Andre (BRA), 20, and Neco Padaratz (BRA), 33, in the opening heat of competition.
Taj Burrow (AUS), 32, current ASP World No. 3, began 2010 with a juggernaut assault on the ASP World Tour, but an uncharacteristic stumble in Brazil saw the Western Australian fall from first to third on the ASP World Tour rankings. Despite the setback, Burrow has refocused his energies and will look for a major result in South Africa.
“I’m out to win some events but the ratings don’t bother me any more,” Burrow said. “I’ve given up worrying about points and positions. I had a shocker in Brazil but I scored some epic waves in the West (Australia) and in Bali over the past month. I just can’t wait to start surfing heats again.”
A past winner at the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay (2007), Burrow will look to find a similar form this season to reignite his campaign for an inaugural ASP World Title.
“Jeffreys is definitely up there with the best right I have ever surfed,” Burrow said. “Paddling through the keyhole to surf six foot supers with one other guy is unbeatable. Last year was out of this world – that sand formation dished out some wild old tubes for the boys. I hope we get to see it like that again.”
Another top seed, Burrow risks drawing a dangerous low seed early on in competition in South Africa.
“It’s a spooky feeling for sure (drawing someone on the verge of the cutoff),” Burrow said. “Knowing you could come up against a Dusty (Payne) or an Owen Wright early on can be nerve racking, but I won’t be doing anything out of the ordinary. The lower seeds will be itching to stay on tour, so we might see some upsets. It’s a good thing.”
Burrow faces Damien Hobgood (USA), 31, and one of the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay wildcards in the opening round of competition.
Sean Holmes (ZAF), 32, and Shaun Joubert (ZAF), 19, have been awarded wildcards into the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay with the third being decided in the four-man VZ Wildcard Trials just prior to the start of competition.
Kai Otton (AUS), 30, current ASP World No. 18, has withdrawn due to injury and has been replaced by Joan Duru (FRA), 21.
The waiting period for the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay will on Friday, July 15 and run through July 25, 2010.
The Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay will be web LIVE via www.billabongpro.com/jbay10
For more information, log onto www.aspworldtour.com
Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay Round 1 Match-Ups:
Heat 1: Jadson Andre (BRA), Andy Irons (HAW), Neco Padaratz (BRA)
Heat 2: Bede Durbidge (AUS), Luke Stedman (AUS), Adam Melling (AUS)
Heat 3: Dane Reynolds (USA), Daniel Ross (AUS), Jay Thompson (AUS)
Heat 4: Bobby Martinez (USA), Jeremy Flores (FRA), Nate Yeomans (USA)
Heat 5: Adriano de Souza (BRA), Tiago Pires (PRT), Marco Polo (BRA)
Heat 6: Joel Parkinson (AUS), Tom Whitaker (AUS), Blake Thornton (AUS)
Heat 7: Jordy Smith (ZAF), Roy Powers (HAW), Joan Duru (FRA)
Heat 8: Kelly Slater (USA), Owen Wright (AUS), TBA
Heat 9: Taj Burrow (AUS), Damien Hobgood (USA), TBA
Heat 10: Mick Fanning (AUS), Kieren Perrow (AUS), TBA
Heat 11: Taylor Knox (USA), Luke Munro (AUS), Tanner Gudauskas (USA)
Heat 12: C.J. Hobgood (USA), Kekoa Bacalso (HAW), Matt Wilkinson (AUS)
Heat 13: Fredrick Patacchia (HAW), Patrick Gudauskas (USA), Brett Simpson (USA)
Heat 14: Michel Bourez (PYF), Dean Morrison (AUS), Dusty Payne (HAW)
Heat 15: Chris Davidson (AUS), Mick Campbell (AUS), Drew Courtney (AUS)
Heat 16: Adrian Buchan (AUS), Ben Dunn (AUS), Travis Logie (ZAF)