02, Dec 2007 11:54
In early 2006 an 18-year-old South African by the name of Jordan Michael Smith appeared in Surfer Magazine’s special “Hot 100” edition.
The editors ranked Jordy a respectable eighth in their annual appraisal of the world’s best junior surfers.
They also referred to Jordy’s debut video performance - the opening segment in Billabong’s Passion Pop - as “The second coming of Parko”.
Yet despite such praise, Jordy’s position could have seemed a tad high to the casual observer, considering his age and experience (most of the list’s top 16 were two to three years older), and relatively unknown status outside of his home country.
But if you were lucky enough to catch him freesurfing around that time, you too would have realised the kid’s potential. When someone, who is still too young to drink in a pub, can alternate air reverses, tube rides and lip thwacking, spray flinging hacks down the line with a mature style beyond his years, he is surely destined for future greatness. It is no coincidence his nickname is Superfreak.
But word of his incredible surfing abilities had yet to spread significantly. Besides world amateur surfing circles, where he had already accumulated a couple of world titles and assorted junior crowns, he remained an enigma. Even the hacks at Surfer admitted that Jordy was somewhat of unknown entity. Mid last year though, Jordy began a succession of results that not only vindicated his placing on the list, but also made one wonder why had he not been ranked even higher. Then again, who could have predicted what was to follow? Warming up with a top five finish at the WQS Mr Price Pro in Durban, Jordy underlined his future capital with a third place in the Billabong WCT event, held in firing four-to-six foot waves at Jeffrey’s Bay in July.
As a sponsor’s wildcard surfing in his first WCT event, Smith took out some major scalps and in doing also became the highest placed Saffa in any WCT contest. His performance, which included multiple airs and massive carves, also elevated him to the status of the next potential prodigal son – and promoted him to realm of comparisons with King Kelly himself. Not bad for a teenager who cites reading Harry Potter books and making amateur movies as his downtime hobbies.
The confidence gained from this result sped up Smith’s momentum and the results kept coming. Through the remainder of the year he beat more WCT surfers to take the ISA World Title in Huntington slop and then ended fifth at the Haleiwa Op Pro. He then got another fifth at solid Sunset in the Xcel Pro and, surfing the event tenaciously with stitches in his foot, held the runner up trophy next to Parko at the O’Neill World Cup, also held at Sunset. With that result took he also took the Vans Triple Crown Rookie of the year accolade.
Incredibly Jordy then went on to win the Billabong ASP 2006 World Pro Junior Title at Narrabeen, Australia, in early January. Victory in that contest, often regarded as the soothsayer of events when it comes to determining future world titles, was one of the sweetest for Jordy, who admits to not having achieved a good result in Australia for some time. Jordy blazed his way into the final at Carpark Rights and despite a narrow margin, emerged a popular winner, relegating good friend and WCT rookie Adriano de Souza to second, in what should emerge as one of the great rivalries of the future. “We are really good friends and it was good to have him in the final,” adds Jordy. “He’s a full Brazilian and he does froth out here and there, but he’s cool.”
Jordy, who says he listens to The Beatles to relax before heats, has been doing the WQS full time in 2007 and seeing as he is currently ranked first after a number of finals and wins this year, should easily qualify for the WCT in 2008, where he will get the chance to fulfil his ambition to be world champion. He gives as good he gets hassling-wise, and relishes taking on big names – be they his peers or established pros - and relinquishing them to the dust, so he should have no problem getting there.
One top pro, Taylor Knox, who tried to smack-talk down to the youngster, paid the price: “I had a heat with him once before at the Mr Price in Durban. I think he won and I got second,” recalls Jordy, with a grin. “Then I had a heat with him again at J-Bay a year later. As we were paddling out he said to me ‘Can you remember that heat in Durban?’ And I was like ‘Ya, I remember.’ And he was like ‘Well this is going to be a repeat of that’. And I said ‘whatever floats your boat’ and ended up smoking him in the first five minutes, so…”
As is often the case with successful athletes such confidence can often be construed as arrogance. For Jordy’s part, he comes across as a mellow kid who recognises how lucky he is and tries not to trip too hard on his talent, but also knows he rips and is not afraid to do what it takes to win. Not only is he super-talented, he has the steady support of his accomplished surfboard shaper dad Graham and mom Luellen, which he reckons helps keep him grounded. “My dad always tells me,” says Jordy. “Don’t get a big head and stay humble and you’ll be alright. And so I just stick to that and hope it all turns out good in the end.”
This kind of attitude is but one of the parallels that can be drawn between Kelly Slater and he who will (probably) be King. Both are natural footed and combine power, functional technical progression and smooth, aesthetic flow. Both come from humble backgrounds. Both are competitive machines and want to win everything. Both also enjoy playing golf and they also share the same birth date, albeit 16 years apart. However, clearly not one to dwell on such matters, Jordy is ambivalent. “I guess it’s just a co-incidence, one of those things,” he says. This astral duplication will be probably an inane question that he’ll probably have to deal with for some time yet from the pesky surf and mainstream media. But his response also reveals a pragmatic approach and a mature, level head that seems focused on only one thing: winning contests with the highest levels of surfing performance he can muster. “I’m just there for a reason and that is to do my job, which is to try and beat everybody. I don’t really care who they are,” he finishes.
Whatever the future holds, Jordy Smith, who has been elevated first on this year’s Surfer Hot 100 and is currently working on his own video, will weave his particular brand of surfing magic on the world for many years to come.