GREAT EX­PEC­TA­TIONS - JORDY SMITH

how jordy smith car­ries the hopes of a surf­ing na­tion on his shoul­ders.

Tracks - - Contents - words and photos by alan van gy­sen

“Bo­ere­wors on the braai; with chut­ney and salad!” beams Jordy Smith, an­nounc­ing the din­ner plan. It’s been a long day surf­ing perfect late-sea­son Su­per­tubes and we’re fam­ished. We’re sit­ting in Jordy’s ex­tended braai area – the South African term for bar­beque – in his J-Bay home; the first house he ever bought with his ac­cu­mu­lated South African Ju­nior com­pe­ti­tion win­nings. He loves the joint.

“Tom Curren played here for my dad and I. Sat right there,” says Jordy, point­ing to a well-worn sin­gle leather couch like a proud grom. “My dad built this area as an add-on to the house; best thing we ever did.”

He stares deep into the low flames that are turn­ing the logs into coals, then starts slap­ping the meat on the grill. There’s a sat­is­fy­ing hiss as we set­tle in, a cold beer in hand, and we get talk­ing.

Hey Jords, what would you be do­ing if surf­ing didn’t ex­ist?

What? If I wasn’t a surfer? I would prob­a­bly be in­volved in the surf in­dus­try some­how, es­pe­cially since my dad is a surf­board shaper. Like most kids I would prob­a­bly have taken af­ter him, be­cause it’s easy, and you get first­hand ex­pe­ri­ence of what ac­tu­ally goes into that spe­cific line of work. My dad works re­ally hard. It’s not just a job though, it’s a pas­sion.

But if surf­ing didn’t ex­ist at all?

Mmm? Well be­fore my dad started shap­ing he was a qual­i­fied re­frig­er­a­tion tech­ni­cian; deal­ing with elec­tron­ics and stuff like that. Ser­vic­ing and re­build­ing things from scratch like fridges and mi­crowaves. I would prob­a­bly have gone down a sim­i­lar road to sup­port my­self and make a living for my fu­ture fam­ily.

What was it like grow­ing up in Dur­ban?

It was pretty good. I grew up in the same fam­ily home in Um­bilo un­til I was about 18. Um­bilo is about 20 min­utes in­land. It’s kind of in­dus­trial and it’s very… well it’s kind of poor and a lower-class area. Then later on we moved to Glen­wood which is about five min­utes away. I never grew up near the beach but that was what made it so spe­cial, ev­ery time we went it was such a treat. Grow­ing up I was for­tu­nate enough to have my dad in­volved in surf­ing. I man­aged my time be­tween skate­board­ing, soc­cer and surf­ing. Those were the three things I fell in love with. Un­for­tu­nately my school was quite far from the beach. It would take 30 min­utes to get home and an­other 20 min­utes to the beach. But that just added to the rea­son why I wanted to surf all day on the week­ends. I very rarely got to surf in the week, or for very long, whereas the kids who were home­schooled could. So come the week­ends I was

I have al­ways known what I wanted. My par­ents didn’t have much so I knew that the only way out was to make it big and the only way I was go­ing to do that was to put in the extra hours. I think that is where I got all my drive. I mean, you see all the guys on tour living the glam­orous life­styles; for me it was the Kellys, the Andys, the Joels. I’d sit back in my younger days and think “wow”, I’d like to live like that. My dad al­ways said, “Don’t ever think you’re that good. There are al­ways kids out there that are hun­grier, and want it more. You’re never go­ing to be the best, so you bet­ter just keep on try­ing.” And so from a young age I em­braced that and kept bang­ing it out and bang­ing it out un­til I think it just turned into it’s own thing and kind of snow­balled.

How young were you when you start surf­ing?

My mom and dad took me to the beach when I was about two or three. I think I stood on a surf­board for the first time with arm­bands around three years old. My mom and dad loved the beach, so it was in­evitable I would end up in the water, es­pe­cially with my dad be­ing a shaper, a surfer and lov­ing the water. It was strange though, be­cause most of the other kids who surfed did lifesaving but I didn’t, and my other love was soc­cer. Still is. It’s so opposite to surf­ing. So I was ei­ther on the field dur­ing the week when I couldn’t get to the beach, or on week­ends I was on the beach surf­ing. I wasn’t re­ally into any other sports ex­cept­ing skat­ing, which I could eas­ily do at home on the road. We used to have these lit­tle side­walks and drive­way cor­ners where I would kick off and try airs onto the street to prac­tice my surf moves. Jordy gets up to turn the fa­mous coiled, spiced sausage known as bo­ere­wors (farm sausage) on the grill.

So where was your lo­cal spot?

I started surf­ing at Ad­ding­ton Beach which is just south of the Dur­ban piers, and only once I had im­proved did my dad take me across to New Pier. I think he wanted me to get the ba­sics down be­fore I took the next step. A lot of kids skip that first cru­cial stage these days; sprint­ing be­fore they can walk. Like surf­ing perfect waves and do­ing airs be­fore they can turn. I was happy to start sim­ple at that age – I didn't know any bet­ter. As time went on I slowly grad­u­ated from the in­side at New Pier to the bowls and fi­nally worked my way up to the out­side. That’s an­other thing my mom and dad in­stilled in me, to re­spect your el­ders and learn good surf eti­quette.

“I HAVE AL­WAYS KNOWN WHAT I WANTED. MY PAR­ENTS DIDN’T HAVE MUCH SO I KNEW THAT THE ONLY WAY OUT WAS TO MAKE IT BIG AND THE ONLY WAY I WAS GO­ING TO DO THAT WAS TO PUT IN THE EXTRA HOURS. I THINK THAT IS WHERE I GOT ALL MY DRIVE. ”

Was it a good place to prac­tice and learn all-round skills?

Ab­so­lutely. As a kid grow­ing up I don’t think any­one re­alises how good of a train­ing ground a place like New Pier ac­tu­ally is. Es­pe­cially when you’re young. It’s warm, you can run around out onto the pier and jump off into the lineup, pad­dling straight into a three, four-foot right han­der and get three, four, even five turns on a wave. You get the reps. I mean the reps are just con­tin­u­ous and in three hours of surf­ing you can get, like, 40 waves. So you re­ally get the op­por­tu­nity to perfect your turns, and then when the on­shore comes up you’re able to fo­cus on your air game. Back when I grew up the tal­ent pool was so strong and big that ev­ery time you pad­dled out there were pro’s like War­wick Wright, Travis Lo­gie, Davey Weare, Damien Fahren­fort, Paul Can­ning, Ricky Bass­net; eas­ily 30 guys who all pushed each other ev­ery day. I be­lieve it’s what re­ally helped me. It was just a boom­ing time for surf­ing in SA. They had the fa­mous Surf Zone shop right there, the cof­fee shop and the wave. You didn’t have to go any­where else. It was just all about the beach and surf­ing. You surfed, you ate, you waxed up and you were back out do­ing it all over again. We did that all day. Those were some of the best times of my life.

What goals did you have grow­ing up?

When I was re­ally young be­tween the ages of 7-12 I didn’t re­ally have any se­ri­ous goals. I mean at that age you dream of cool things you think you would like, but there wasn’t any se­ri­ous drive then. Pro­fes­sional surf­ing def­i­nitely wasn’t drummed into me then, and it was all about hav­ing fun. I couldn’t get enough of it. I ate, dreamt and slept surf­ing all day long. For me it was all ob­ses­sion. I was and still am ob­sessed with surf­ing. I think that pas­sion leads peo­ple to their goals. Once you get to a cer­tain point you re­lease your tal­ents and you be­gin to see the fu­ture you might be able to have, and that’s when you start putting goals in place.

Who are your best surf friends?

To be hon­est my core group of surf friends has stayed the same since I was young, from then till now. Guys like Chad du Toit who I call up ev­ery sin­gle time I’m home, Damien Fahren­fort when he is around, and Travis Lo­gie. When­ever I get a chance to surf I call them up. We al­ways looked up to Travis as a guy who was on the tour and who al­ways shared his wealth of knowl­edge and who we could ap­proach. And then War­wick ‘Wok’ Wright – haha, he doesn’t ever surf for very long, but he is a great guy to talk shit with in the lineup and just have fun with. These are the four guys I al­ways surfed and hung with, and still try to see to­day. And then ev­ery now and then I would surf with Ricky (Bass­net) on the Bluff. Wow! I thought Ricky was the best thing South Africa was ever go­ing to pro­duce. Grow­ing up my dad would al­ways tell me, “You just need to beat Ricky, don’t worry about any­one else, you just need to beat Ricky.” I think as far as he and I were con­cerned, Ricky was the best.

“I ATE, DREAMT AND SLEPT SURF­ING ALL DAY LONG. FOR ME IT WAS ALL OB­SES­SION. I WAS AND STILL AM OB­SESSED WITH SURF­ING. I THINK THAT PAS­SION LEADS PEO­PLE TO THEIR GOALS. ”

What is your most un­for­get­table mem­ory grow­ing up?

Wow. Mmm? I don’t know, there have def­i­nitely been a cou­ple crazy ones. Prob­a­bly the mo­ment I re­alised surf­ing was some­thing that I could do as a ca­reer. That was at the ISA World Games in 2003 in Dur­ban. Travis Lo­gie won and I was part of the ju­niors. I won my di­vi­sion and I think that’s when my con­fi­dence kinda just went to an­other level. I re­mem­ber pad­dling out along the pier and this wave just popped up in front of me and I man­aged to do four turns and got an 8.3. That one wave flipped a switch in my mind. I re­alised then and there this was go­ing to be my life. That was the mo­ment that I thought, here we go, put your head down and go for it!

How was com­pet­ing on the QS? What was the year like when you qual­i­fied?

that was the leap from just be­ing a ju­nior to know­ing I could com­pete with the big boys. Right then and there I made the de­ci­sion that I needed to be on tour. I wanted to be on tour, like, right now! I had some good re­sults com­ing in to Hawaii, jump­ing from num­ber 200 on the QS rank­ings to num­ber 20 af­ter the Mr.Price Pro, ended up get­ting a sec­ond place fin­ish at Sun­set and did re­ally well at Haleiwa. Sud­denly I was like “Holy crap!” I ac­tu­ally don’t know what I would have done had I qual­i­fied that year. I def­i­nitely wasn’t ready. The next year I had so much con­fi­dence com­ing off all that that I just started get­ting re­sults from the get-go and de­cided to do as many QS events as I could. Back then if you got to 10,000 points The QS was quite a weird ex­pe­ri­ence for me. I had done the ju­nior cir­cuit and been fairly suc­cess­ful but had heard how dif­fer­ent the QS was and what a grind it could be. Back then you started with so many peo­ple and had to surf so many more heats just to get to get a us­able re­sult. But those were im­por­tant con­fi­dence builders. I fin­ished at 17 and af­ter that things started lin­ing up. I got the wild­card into the J-Bay WCT and ended up mak­ing it into the semi-fi­nal and

you were guar­an­teed a spot in the CT, and by half way through the year I al­ready had that and even­tu­ally I won the QS and had the record for the most amount of points, which was very spe­cial. I sur­prised my­self. That was a big deal, and amaz­ingly, I was in. At that point I was go­ing through quite a lot of spon­sor­ship stuff and things were crazy. It all came around so fast I didn’t know what to think or what to ex­pect.

The pres­sure must have been in­tense in the first few years; peo­ple want­ing you to win a world ti­tle etc. How did you feel?

Geez, there was a ton of pres­sure to be hon­est. Be­ing so young didn’t help. I came straight out of high school with al­most zero me­dia hype, other than some stuff in the lo­cal surf­ing mag, and sud­denly was straight into the global cur­rent. Ev­ery­one wanted a piece of me and had some­thing to say and at some point you start to be­lieve some of the things peo­ple are say­ing about you and you get car­ried away be­ing so young and im­pres­sion­able. I came into it pretty blind and in­ex­pe­ri­enced, and found my­self shout­ing my mouth off at times like some peo­ple do to­day… But ya. I mean, if you want to be the best in the world you have to be ex­tremely con­fi­dent and be­lieve in your­self 100%. I think you start to learn not to say that kind of stuff out loud and you have to keep that within your­self and learn to be more re­spect­ful to­wards your com­peti­tors and to the peo­ple who are around you. But those are the things you learn as you ma­ture. That first year was def­i­nitely a sur­prise and I re­alised how much more it was about com­pet­ing than ac­tu­ally surf­ing. I think I came 22nd or 23rd that year and I was like, wow, this is crazy. I had some good per­for­mances but ul­ti­mately got out-com­peted. And the same hap­pened for an­other year or two. I made a lot of mis­takes, just rookie er­rors. I mean the guys who have been on tour for a while are so ac­cus­tomed and com­fort­able with ev­ery­thing.

Who helped you through all that pres­sure?

My dad for sure. He was al­ways there to re­mind me, “Hey, don’t ever get too ahead of your­self. There is al­ways some­one bet­ter than you. Al­ways some­one work­ing harder than you and who wants it more than you do. So if you don’t work enough it might go away.” I’ve just stuck with that my whole life re­ally and have just made the most of ev­ery­thing. Work as hard as I can and hope­fully that will be enough at the end of the day. At least that way you can never be bummed with what you have ac­com­plished and achieved.

And meet­ing Lyn­dall, the love of your life? A lot of peo­ple were skep­ti­cal when you got en­gaged and then mar­ried…

I was at a horse race dur­ing our off-sea­son. I saw this beau­ti­ful woman walk­ing down the way and I just started talk­ing to her. We kicked it off in­stantly.

There were def­i­nitely some sus­pi­cious and scep­ti­cal peo­ple at the time, and we had a lot of neg­a­tiv­ity to­wards us, to­wards me. Hav­ing a girl­friend and all that. It was quite… it bummed me out a lot ac­tu­ally to see other peo­ple so neg­a­tive. But I just went with my heart, and sure enough three or fours years later we were mar­ried. I couldn’t be hap­pier to have some­one by my side sup­port­ing me in ev­ery­thing that I do. Be­ing able to have one mind sup­port­ing you to ac­com­plish your dreams is one thing, but hav­ing two peo­ple with love in­volved, you can re­ally con­quer the world. She has re­ally helped me out in so many ways. To be able to do what I love with some­one I love, and to share those mo­ments and make mem­o­ries is re­ally some­thing spe­cial.

You live in Cal­i­for­nia now. Why did you move?

Well, ba­si­cally we had to move due to spon­sor obli­ga­tions and trav­el­ling. The trav­el­ling started to be­come way too in­tense. South Africa is so far from all the ma­jor events, and the hours we would spend on the plane were ridicu­lous. It just be­came too much. It’s good for my spon­sors to be in the US too. To have me down the road and call me up for photo shoots or sign­ings, all that. I think for now and over the next 10 years it’s the right place for me to be. Def­i­nitely for my ca­reer it’s smart, but it will never be home. But even be­yond the surf­ing scene there are so many more op­por­tu­ni­ties be­ing pre­sented to me on a daily ba­sis. It’s pretty awe­some to see and I’m lucky enough to be in a po­si­tion to do this and have these op­por­tu­ni­ties.

What is it like be­ing Jordy Smith right now?

It’s pretty much the same to be hon­est. I’ve never looked at my­self any dif­fer­ently to the first day I started surf­ing. I see the world through the same eyes pretty much, but with more ma­tu­rity and ap­pre­ci­a­tion. I think as peo­ple grow up they start to ap­pre­ci­ate things more and they don’t take things too se­ri­ously, or for granted.

What does it take to be one of the best?

It’s dif­fer­ent for ev­ery­one. I think you need that drive and that long-term fo­cus more than any­thing. Deep down you know what it takes. Some peo­ple work re­ally hard on their equip­ment, some peo­ple their minds, oth­ers their train­ing and some their re­la­tion­ships. What works for one per­son might not nec­es­sar­ily work for some­one else. It’s find­ing that thing that works for you and that mo­ti­vates you to go surf­ing ev­ery day; to train as hard as you can. I think that has been my big­gest learn­ing curve; find­ing out what works for me and mo­ti­vates me. A bunch of things mo­ti­vate me. Be­ing suc­cess­ful and do­ing some­thing that I love mo­ti­vates me. To be able to do this for as long as I can is ex­tremely mo­ti­vat­ing. It’s mo­ti­vat­ing to eat healthy, it’s mo­ti­vat­ing to surf long hours, to surf the best I can, to put long hours into test­ing my boards, into re­la­tion­ship and peo­ple that I meet around the world. All of these have ma­tured and blos­somed over the years and I think those are the small per­cent­ages that end up cre­at­ing an all-round surfer. Work­ing on your small-wave equip­ment, work­ing on your big-wave equip­ment, your body, eat­ing right ev­ery day…it’s all these small per­cent­ages. It might only be 5% here and 8% there but they all add up. All the crumbs make up a loaf of bread.

What gets you through heats?

Self-be­lief. Self-be­lief in what you do, in the process, trust­ing in your in­stincts. Never sec­ond-guess­ing your­self. If you make a de­ci­sion, just go with it. If you’ve been in it long enough it’s be­cause you’ve made good de­ci­sions. You just have to trust that. Some peo­ple have a dif­fi­cult time do­ing that and just pulling the trig­ger when it needs pulling. Don't rock or roll. Just put your­self on one side or the other. When you’re out in the water and you see a set rolling down the point, you need to pull the trig­ger and pad­dle there. You can’t worry that if you pad­dle there some­one might get the wave down here. You just need to make those de­ci­sions in the mo­ment and trust your in­stincts. It also boils down to a lot of prepa­ra­tion. Be­ing pre­pared. I’ve found that if you’re pre­pared, you’re way less ner­vous pad­dling out. If not, your mind un­rav­els every­where and you’re nowhere. The bo­ere­wors is done and we’re all starv­ing af­ter an in­cred­i­ble day of 4-6 foot J-Bay per­fec­tion. But be­fore we eat in si­lence I won­der one last thought out loud…

What makes J-Bay so spe­cial?

J-Bay is just that place for me bru. I know ev­ery­one and I feel like I can let my hair down and just be my­self. I just feel re­laxed walk­ing around here. It’s just a spe­cial place. I’m sure so many other peo­ple have that same feel­ing when they ar­rive here or surf here or eat here. It’s one of the few places in the world that you can just sit on the floor of the board­walk and feel that you are in the right place at the right time, and that you shouldn’t be any­where else in the world but right there. My mind re­laxes, my body re­laxes; ev­ery­thing just feels right here. It’s the place for me.

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