Jordy Smith has become the first South African to win the Bells Beach Classic World Tour event in history following a remarkable day of surfing on Australia's southern coast. The waves were as good as they get at Bells Beach with six to eight feet of swell groomed by a rare light offshore wind. The conditions played straight into the hands of the super-sized South African, whose fluent brand of elastic power surfing proved untouchable on the final day.
"I've been coming here since I was 12 years old, all my favourite surfers have won this event, last year I was upset for myself, I was pretty bummed getting second. I couldn't believe my luck when I made it into the final," he said.
Smith piled on one of the highest combined heat totals of the day (18.90 out of 20) to take down the Brazilian giant killer, Caio Ibelli in the final. His top score of 9.77 provided a masterclass in Bells Bowl surfing, featuring an array of brutal layback snaps and gouges. Ibelli hit back with a 9.63 for a succession of ultra-stylish, turbo arcs in the pocket but was unable to reel in Jordy's mammoth total.
"I was trying to pull out anything I had, everything that was left for the judges, this is absolutely a dream come true. Ten years of just hammering away and trying my very best, I'm over the moon to get it," he said.
"I wasn't sure how many opportunities we were going to get out there with the tide being so high. I thought that might be one of my only opportunities. But then when I got the nine I was like okay here we go, we have to open up after this," he said.
Elsewhere, reigning world champion and ratings leader, Hawaiian John Florence had looked unstoppable earlier in the day until his shock elimination in the semi-finals at the hands of the Brazilian giant killer, Ibelli. Florence put up the highest combined total of the event in round four (19.54) featuring one of the better aerials ever seen in a competitive jersey.
Three-time World Champion, Australian Mick Fanning, also found some form in this the final event of the Australian leg. Poor results following a year-long sabbatical in 2016 saw the him slump to 22nd on the ratings below a handful of tour rookies and unknowns. He lost to Florence in the quarters though moves into 19th place ahead of the Oi Rio Pro beginning May 9th.
The day belonged to Smith, however, who endured a rocky start to his career. The 29-year-old was famously the subject of an unprecedented bidding war between Nike and the surf company, O'Neill as a 20-year-old, in which the footwear giant had Tiger Woods call him, Michael Jordan email him, and even sent him the boot which Ronaldo slotted a hat-trick in the '98 World Cup final with.
The saga may have poisoned his mind with premature notions of greatness with his early years on tour proving to be a tough learning curve. Smith finished 26th in his debut year, avoiding relegation back to the WQS by a hair, in what also brought about the first major self-examination in his career.
He has long been touted as a future World Champion but patchy form and several injuries have stymied that. He finished runner-up to John Florence in the title race last year and following Bells finds himself once again second in the ratings behind the prodigious Hawaiian. Asked about his world title hopes this year, he was hopeful.
"I hope so. I just want to try my best at every single event. Last year I did a lot of learning, obviously I came back from an injury the year before that. It was just putting pieces of the puzzle together. I have a good team behind me now," he said.