Before The Shark Attack, Other Things Happened At J-Bay Today

All photos: Jimmicane
In the final heat of the 2015 J-Bay Open versus Julian Wilson, Mick Fanning was attacked by a very large shark, and, for better or worse, that’s all this years event will be remembered for. Not the 12 days of up-and-down surf. Not Julian Wilson’s second consecutive final. Not Kelly Slater’s Quarterfinal performance at perfect, 4- to- 5 foot Supertubes. A shark attacked a three time world champion at 2:30 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon in front of thousands of people, and suddenly, nothing else seemed important any longer. But still, other things happened.

All’s well that ends well, right?
The conditions for the final day? Perfect. It took forever but Jeffrey’s delivered. After 12 days of schizofrenic weather the conditions finally aligned for the last 8 hours of the waiting period. The biggest. The sunniest. The warmest. The best! Today, July 19, is the same day J-Bay wrapped in 2014. Same as last year, every heat and every set got better and better and by the end of the day, with last years champion Mick Fanning once again in the final, history had a chance to repeat itself.

But history is boring
So f–k history. Instead of a winner, we got a shark.

But first
Any surprises? Not really. Top seeds were in top form all morning and cruised into the quarters. At which point the tide turned, the wind switched, and for the first time this event, J-Bay truly turned on.

Heat of the day?
Quarter number three, Kelly versus Gabe. It was the heat of the event. At one point, after Kelly’s 2nd nine, Ross Williams, Ronnie Blakey, Kai Otton, Michel Bourez and Todd Kline were literally jumping around with excitement in the competitors area, running between the outside deck and the inside TVs for replays as line after line stacked out the back. Standing on furniture. Debating scores. Throwing superlatives. At one point, as an unridden set marched through Supers after both Kelly and Gabe had already ridden waves, Michel noted how nice Jet Ski assist would be on a day like today. Commissioner KP was standing right there to explain that they don’t use it because Ski wake lingers at J-Bay and crosses up the sets. Despite the torture of watching perfect, empty waves in a heat, as far as entertainment goes, Kelly’s win over Gabe was as good as live surfing gets. When Kelly came in he stayed in his wetsuit, fanned out watching Julian’s win over Ace and was nearly shaking with excitement in anticipation of getting back out there. Of course, Kelly’s campaign would end right there. Mick took him down in the second semi to join Julian in the final, and that’s where things got interesting.

Because sharks.
This evening I attended an impromptu BBQ at Mick’s a few hours after the attack. Julian was there. As was Nat. Kelly. Michel. Kai. Ace. The list goes on. It was emotional and the emotions were real.

Soooo, what now?
The WSL decided to evenly award Mick and Julian second place points and give them each 70k. It was the right decision. The only decision. Nobody will win the J-Bay Open this year. In fact, it’s possible nobody will ever win the J-Bay Open again. It’ll be interesting to see if the WSL brings this event back.

And tomorrow?
J-Bay will be firing. But it won’t be empty. 10 guys paddled out tonight after the final was canceled and plenty more will paddle out in the morning. I asked one of ’em his thoughts on going out this evening. “You think my odds of getting attacked are any different tonight than they ever have been?” He makes a good point. “Some guys get lucky, others don’t.”

Today, Mick was the luckiest unlucky person in J-Bay. — Zander Morton