Irons/Slater Ratings Battle To Resume in Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay
The world's top 45 full time professional surfers will descend on another of the globe's top high-performance waves next week for the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay beginning on July 12.
For over 40 years "J-Bay" has lured surfers from around the world to the legendary break of "Supertubes" and its ruler straight hollow cylinders.
The multiple sections of the lengthy wave, and its proximity to the swell generating "Roaring Forties", grant Supers its deserved reputation as one of the world's best right hand point breaks.
The members of the 11-event Foster's ASP Men's World Tour will also exchange board shorts for full length rubber following three stops in the warm water locations of Tahiti, Fiji and Mexico.
The Billabong Pro, Jeffreys Bay is the sixth of 11 events on what has been dubbed "The Dream Tour".
Former three-time world champion Andy Irons (HAW) comes into the event fresh from his first win of the year in Mexico.
With the victory the ever hungry Hawaiian leapt into second place on the 2006 ASP ratings and now sits just 93 points shy of tour leader in seven-time world champion and Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay defending champion Kelly Slater (USA).
Irons is now in a similar situation to where he was this time last year, in that he was winless after the first few events but then lifted in the second half of the season to win three events thus staging one of the best rivalries ever seen in professional sport by pushing Slater right to the edge.
After gaining the win Mexico, Irons is eager to get on with the business of securing a fourth world crown. His win is backed by a string of quarterfinal and semifinal results early in the year.
"I'm just getting in a rhythm, getting back in the groove," said Irons. "That's it, game on! The momentum has begun and now I need to capitalize on the Mexico win and carry it on into Jeffreys Bay and hopefully throughout the rest of the year."
Twenty seven-year-old Irons was narrowly beaten by Slater in the dying seconds of the Billabong Pro J-Bay in 2005 and there's no doubt that the narrow decision is enhancing his motivation to bring home the silverware in 2006.
Winning the event in 2004, the super talented natural footer is one of only a few surfers who effortlessly thread the often-tricky Jeffreys tube ride and understandably he rates the stop as one of his favourites.
"I love going to J-Bay, it's such a special place," said Irons. "There is always a lot of marine life in the water and the people always welcome us back with open arms, I'm really looking forward to it. "
Slater, who made a return from injury to place fifth in Mexico will hit the frigid water of Jeffreys Bay at full strength.
The only three-time winner in the event's 24-year history, Slater will be looking for his fourth at the break which he has made his own over 11 years.
The prospect of becoming the first person since Jake Paterson (AUS) to win J-Bay back to back (in 2000 and 2001) and repeat the performance which proved pivotal in securing his seventh world title, Slater remains the undeniable favourite.
"The last three years, I've had a couple wins out there," said Slater. "I really like the wave and I feel like my equipment is perfectly suited for it.
"I just get a good feeling about Jeffreys Bay every year when I go."
Slater said the confidence levels of the top 45 will be at an all-time high heading into Jeffreys Bay following the epic waves of the last event at the break known as "La Jolla" in Mexico.
"Everyone will be a little more confident because we usually we come out of surfing lefthanders and go to Jeffreys," said Slater. "But now we have this (La Jolla), and it's actually a little bit more difficult to surf the face.
"It's a little tighter, more hollow, and I think Jeffreys is a little bit easier wave to surf than this."
Nineteen-ninety-nine world champion Mark Occhilupo (AUS) will return to South Africa in 2006, 22 years after winning the Country Feeling Surf Classic at Jeffreys Bay as an 18-year-old.
Bowing out to Bruce Irons in 2005 in possibly the year's best heat, Occhilupo is in dangerous backside form, having blasted his way to the semi finals in solid right-handers at Bells Beach, Australia earlier this year.
Occy, who threatened to retire last year, turned 40 in June and continues to redefine the career parameters for professional surfing by remaining in the top 20 on the world rankings.
""I'm just riding it as long as I can," said Occhilupo. "I just turned 40 [on June 16] and I'm sitting number 20th on the world tour.
"You have to be in the top 28 to qualify and if I'm in that then I'll keep going next year."
"Everywhere we go the waves are insane with just one other guy out so how could you stop doing it? It's just too good."
II'm staying in a new house this year, right down on the point, pretty much the closest house to the key hole which is going to be great. I'm really looking foreword to getting back to Jeffreys."
Slater rates Occhilupo as a serious threat for the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay in 2006, after bearing witness to the performance of the "Raging Bull" in 2005.
"The heat he and Bruce [Irons] had last year was just amazing," said Slater. "They have total opposing styles: frontside versus backside, barrels versus off-the-tops and carves."
"It was a great heat and it could have gone either way."
The Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay can be viewed live on the Internet with commentary in four languages English, Spanish, Portuguese and French at www.billabongpro.com and www.aspworldtour.com during the waiting period from 12-22 July
FOSTER'S ASP MEN'S WORLD TOUR RATINGS AFTER LEADING INTO THE BILLABONG PRO JEFFREYS BAY
1. Kelly Slater (USA) 4233 points
2. Andy Irons (HAW) 4140 points
3. Bobby Martinez (USA) 40008 points
4. Taj Burrow (AUS) 3650 points
4. Taylor Knox (USA) 3650 points
6. Damien Hobgood (USA) 3542 points
7. Joel Parkinson (AUS) 3052 points
8. CJ Hobgood (USA) 2896 points
9. Bruce Irons (HAW) 2884 points
>> SURF NEWS INDEX <<