2007, back when it was the Billabong Pro J-Bay.
15 Years of J-Bay
07/07/2021 | All photos by Alan van Gysen
J-Bay has been firing lately, as if to remind the World Tour what it's missing out on.
Groomed, six foot walls have been pouring down the point over the past week, coinciding with the traditional start of the contest waiting period.
Alan van Gysen has been making the pilgrimage to shoot the event - and the wave – for close on two decades. During that time, he has witnessed firsthand the iconic rivalries, dark horse upsets and era-defining performances. Oh, and Supertubes as good as it gets.
What better time then, for a dip into the archives? All captions by the photographer.
Andy Irons, 2007. He only won the contest once, in 2004, but was always a force to behold at Supertubes.
Andy, eviscerating a wave like few others could. Despite this, he seemed to have a string of bad luck at J-Bay after his initial win.
Kelly Slater, 2007. The sand that fills in along the point was as good as it gets this year, thanks to huge storm that ravaged the east coast of South Africa and pushed vast amounts of sediment into the bay. Kelly Slater stuck around for close on a month after the contest finished, for good reason.
Dane Reynolds, 2009. Dane obviously never conformed to the contest mould, but there were moments when he clicked beautifully with J-Bay.
Sean Holmes, 2010. Sean was the wildcard that would famously become the thorn in Andy Irons' side, effectively eliminating him from the event multiple times. One of the nicest guys you'll meet on land, but lethal in the water and easily one of the best SA surfers never to make the World Tour.
Heath Joske, 2010. Few things are as beautiful as a big, backlit J-Bay wall.
2010 was a big year for Jordy Smith, and South African surfing. It marked Jordy's first CT win, and the first World Tour win by a South African since Shaun Tomson in the '70s.
Jordy, 2010 victory salute. Jordy would go on to seal his dominance with a back-to-back victory the following year.
Derek Hynd, 2011. Derek has become synonymous with Supertubes over the years, thanks in large part to his incredible friction-free surfing. He'd been into it a good few years by this stage and was working on refining his equipment, as evidenced by the asymmetrical shape he's holding, made by local shaper Des Swayer (I think).
I spent a few weeks with Derek this winter in 2011, working on an article for Surfer magazine. What he was doing out there on those big, open walls seemed truly groundbreaking at the time.
Bruce Gold, 2012. Bruce is one of J-Bay's enduring characters. He was among the first wave of surfers to post up here and never left. Well into his 70s now, he can still be seen catching screamers down the point wearing his trademark red Gath helmet.
Bruce on a runner down the point.
Gabriel Medina, 2014. It would take a few more years for Gabriel to figure out the winning formula at J-Bay, but his backhand hooks have always been devastating out there. When he eventually won the event in 2019, it was the first time a goofy-footer had won the event since Mark Occhilupo in 1984, when it was still the Country Feeling Classic.
The nearby wildlife has always been an integral attraction on the lay days.
Finals day, 2014. From what I recall it was touch and go with the forecast and event organisers waited right until the end of the window period. This was taken pre-drone from a helicopter, which was always a huge expense. I was covering the event for Surfline and, thankfully, both gambles paid off.
Another finals day, this time in 2015. The conditions were about as good as it gets: 4-6 foot, straight offshore, barrels and turns.....
...And then all hell broke loose. This is the moment Mick Fanning got bumped by a great white shark during the quarter-finals. I'd imagine it will go down as the closest-call in live pro-surfing history.
Moments after, with the rest of the competitors checking the footage, shortly before the rest of the event was called off.
Mick, relieved to be alive, hugs Beck Buchan (Ace Buchan's wife) on the boardwalk.
Fast forward to the awards ceremony, 2016. Everyone loves a good comeback story, and Mick delivered, returning the following year to take the title.
The waves, as they sometimes do, fired after the event in 2016. This is local Wilderness surfer Adin Jeenes, who is actually a goofy-foot, riding switch through the Carpark section.
Brendon Gibbens is a fairly understated character but he is arguably one of the best free surfers to emerge from SA. His committed approach always suits Supertubes to a tee.
Shaun Tomson and Michael February, 2017. This was the year Mikey made the tour and Shaun is no doubt imparting some sage wisdom.
Mikey didn't fare too well in the contest, which is a pity. One can only wonder how he would have done if he'd been riding the twin-fins that he looks so comfortable on nowadays.
Kelly Slater, nursing his broken hoof. There was no shortage of drama in 2017. Kelly was in the best position he'd been for a long time to make a 12th title run. But the injury, sustained while pulling into a small tube at Boneyards, put an end to that.
Felipe Toledo, 2017. Felipe was unstoppable during the event, silencing many of his critics with incredible rail turns mixed up with huge airs that would eventually secure him the win. This was from his double alley-oop 10-point ride.
The judges were unanimous, in the tower and on the beach.
Joel Parkinson, 2018. Since winning his first CT event as a wildcard here in 1999, Parko was always a favourite. His fluid style matched the pace and tempo of Supers beautifully. This was during his last run before retiring from the pro tour, and was the last wave he rode at Supers in a contest jersey.
Jordy Smith, 2018. Jordy's form was as lethal as ever, especially during the free surfs, but he was unable to claim a third victory at his favourite wave.
Felipe Toledo, 2018. A worthy champion, two years running.
Stephanie Gilmore, 2019. This was the second year that the women's tour had an event at J-Bay, but it was obvious right from the start that Steph was made for this wave.
There's always an eager crew looking to get in the water before the siren blows for the first heat of the day. But the paddle from the keyhole can be a daunting prospect, especially when the swell is booming.
Jordy Smith, warming up, 2019.
By the time the finals wrapped in huge, gale force surf in 2019, contestants had surfed everything from perfect tubes to small runners over the bricks. Gabriel Medina and Italo Ferreira put on a show of incredible go-for-broke surfing through it all, with Gabriel getting the win over Italo in the end.
2020. Coronavirus cancelled the event, along with the rest of the tour, but the waves pumped with locals calling it one of the best seasons in recent memory. A buttery-smooth "smaller day", in-between swells.
Mikey February, 2020. Since finding his groove on less conventional equipment, Mikey has become one of those surfers whose name is now synonymous with Supertubes. This was shot during the filming of Sonic Souvenirs.
Looking ahead: Contest or no contest, this remains a view the world will never tire of.