It’s always a pleasure to speak to Mr Jordy Smith and we weren’t disappointed when we caught up with our favourite Saffa smoothhound to shoot the breeze.
Jordy has progressed from diamond in the rough, raw talent, guaranteed a world title, through injury and tough times, to 2016 and 2017 where he found his groove again. And once where you would have encountered hot-headed youth, now you’ll find a sage and philosophical campaigner treading the boards alongside wife-extraordinaire Lyndall.
This new approach is typified by his pragmatic heat strategy. And if you ask Jordy whether he’s toning it down to win more tight battles? He replies, “I wouldn’t say I turn it down, but I now surf according to the wave. What the wave gives me I take and try my very best to maximise the potential. When a wave only offers you 70 percent, then you can’t surf 100 percent because you’ll over surf the wave – you’ll overpower it and bog a rail.
"You have to look at each wave for what it is. And sometimes people will say 'you are not pushing the limits' – but for me, it is the difference between a calculated risk versus gambling. What do I need to win the heat? That’s what I need to get.”
How about a world title? Whilst not a mathematical impossibility this year it is certainly an outside shot which requires both Gabriel Medina and John John Florence to fluff their lines. It is often said in surfing that you build up to a title, and a brief look at many of Kelly’s and Mick’s or even Parko’s solo title shows you that it’s not a one year flash, rather a process of learning and building. Not even a youthful Kelly Slater could step into this current tour roster and blitz everyone from the get-go. First you have to know that you can win before the year comes around.
“There are a lot of factors, including luck, involved in winning heats,” says Jordy. “Sometimes the waves come your way and sometimes they don’t. What I need to do is know that I gave it my all and was as prepared as I could be. Each event is your own little gig. They are titles in themselves, so I just feel like I should focus on what’s happening right now.
“I’m so stoked to have been in the position I got to this year. It’s been one of my best seasons since 2011 when I went into Tahiti in first and got injured, which was a real bummer. I’m just stoked to be healthy and pain free. It was a big thing that injury, which sucked.”
Swing back to 2010 / 2011 and what did the surfing landscape look like? Jordy was blooded but an up-and-comer, all youthful fire in his belly. The old guard were meant to be swept off their perches by the young broom, but no, they grimly hung on.
Alongside Jordy you had Julian Wilson and then later Kolohe Andino and even Nat Young. These were all kids who grew up being told that one day they would be the world champion. Imagine the pressure heaped on youthful shoulders when none of that came easy. It was either Mick Fanning or Kelly Slater winning the world title from 2005 to 2013 (with Joel’s memorable inclusion in 2012, willed-on by the people).
We had to wait until Medina in 2014 before someone not eyeing post retirement business opportunities won the big one. And whilst today you have to prise yourself above John John Flo or Medina for a title, at least they are millennials. Which is a long-winded way of pointing out that Jordy has already won the battle against his peers who were seeded into the fight against heavyweights unwilling to leave the ring.
“I’ve been floating around that top 10 for years with couple of seconds.” What’s the secret sauce? “I think you mature, I think you lean about balance, I think you learn about yourself. But surfing’s changed a lot and some years I’ve surfed better but not got results. Look at Ethan Ewing, he’s surfing so well but the results aren’t coming. Same with Josh Kerr, those guys are tearing the bag out of it and getting 9s in heats but coming last.
“We are talking about splitting hairs here which is the difference in competitive surfing. It’s just 5 people’s opinion [the judges] who determine a world champion.”