Where is everybody?
Shaun Payne wins trials, ticket to Billabong Pro main event, Slater still MIA
The streets of Jeffreys Bay were quiet this morning, in total contrast to the contest site at Supertubes where there was a hive of activity happening in preparation for Day One of the Billabong Pro contest.
Walking through the dark to the contest site (the sun pops over the mountain at a very civilized 7:30), you could have been forgiven if you thought the town was still asleep. With the smell of bacon and eggs from the contest kitchen tent and buzz of chatter emanating from the official area at the bottom of the four-story judging tower you realized the 2011 Billabong Pro had come to life.
Everything was in place for the first heat to hit the water -- except Mother Nature had not come to play. If you listen to the locals they have been scoring freezing cold conditions with dumping rain and heaps of surf. This morning, although chilly, it was crystal clear skies with a distinct lack of swell. Occy and Joel Parkinson were trying to make the two-foot runners look good in the pre-dawn light, but even those guys couldn't convince the Contest Director or the Surfer's Rep to give the contest a green light.
The organizers optimistically opted for another 'call' at 10:00 a.m., and so with a slight increase in swell, the Von Zipper Super Heat Trials ran, deciding the Contest Wildcard. The heat ran in slow motion with none of the five Billabong team riders from around the planet really getting out of first gear in the small waves. Local surfer Shaun Payne, obviously the local favorite considering all the whistling and cheering that went down whenever he rode a wave took out the Super Heat. He will probably draw somebody like, Jordy Smith, Taj Burrow or Kelly Slater when the contest gets underway.
That's to say Kelly Slater gets here in time. He's still in Fiji with his arrival time is a mystery, and if rumors are true, Bobby Martinez isn't due into town till next Monday.
Some of the other surfers in the Top 32 didn't really believe Slater wasn't in town and that his "tweets about Fiji" were mind games. Fellow Quiksilver team rider Jeremy Flores confirmed Slater was still on Tavarua Island in Fiji after speaking with him on the phone this morning. While J-Bay is providing two to three-foot marginal waves at best, Slater was scoring 12-second barrels at Restaurants' yesterday.
Just to put it into travel time, from door to door, Tavarua Island in Fiji to Jeffreys Bay on the southeastern coast of South Africa is over 30 hours. With tomorrow looking like another lay day maybe Slater will make it for Round One, which could possibly run over the weekend.
In the meantime, those surfers in the Top 32 that are in Jeffreys Bay are making the best of the small surf. Every peak has a crew jamming and punting, trying new boards, getting used to wearing a layer of rubber and playing the waiting game with Mother Nature.
ESPN Surfing is all over the ASP World Tour. The proof's in the links.