Jordy Smith Is Currently The Best Surfer In The World According to the WSL ranking, at least.
He’s 6’3, weighs in at 193 pounds; and for the first time since 2011, he’s wearing the yellow jersey – in first place on the WSL leader board. His name: Jordy Smith. And, he wouldn’t admit it, but this year is the closest he’s ever been to a world title, “I don’t plan on holding onto the yellow jersey,” he says when asked. “I just plan on attacking right through the rest of the year.”
Jordy grew up in a small town in Durban. His father is a shaper, and he’s spent the majority of his life breathing foam dust and learning all he could about surf and board design. “My upbringing was good,” he says. “I didn’t grow up in the wealthiest neighborhood and it led me to believe that, if you want anything, you have to fight for it. As a kid, I played soccer but loved surfing; it was everything.”
With Lowers on the horizon and the back half of the WCT about to tick off in four quick events, we had a discussion with Jordy. We wanted to find out how he became the world number one and what kind of regiment, and life experiences it takes to be one of the world’s best surfers in 2017.
Growing up, when did the prospect of surfing for a living become reality?
Jordy: I didn’t think too heavily about it as a kid. It wasn’t like today where these 8-year-old’s parents are grooming them into professional surfers. I just wanted to spend as much time at the beach, surf and have fun. I loved competing at the time but didn’t really think it’d take me anywhere. Then, around 15 or 16, becoming a professional surfer became attainable. I won the ISA contest in Durban and I thought, ‘this is crazy I just competed against some of the best guys my age and won.’ After that, I got the chance to travel and showcase my surfing outside of South Africa.
Was that around the time you decided to move to California?
Well, my dad always told me that if I wanted to have a career in surfing, I’d have to do it overseas. In South Africa, it doesn’t work to be a big fish in a small pond. All we had was Zig Zag magazine, which was cool, but it wasn’t on the scale of say, Surfer magazine. Before I moved to California, my contract with my sponsor ended. I was basically living paycheck to paycheck on my contest winnings. Luckily, at the time, I’d won a few big QS’s in a row; that’s when I was able to sign with O’Neill – which was a dream come true, they’re the original surf brand and I’ve stuck with them ever since. .
Why is hard to get noticed outside of South Africa? You guys have some of the best waves in the world.
It’s just too far from the rest of the world, especially the surfing world. Our dollars are mostly generated from the US, Oz and even Brazil. To be in the public eye is important and here it’s much harder to get noticed. The opportunity to move to America was massive. After I started riding for O’Neill. They gave me the travel budget and chance to take my surfing to the next level. That’s when I moved to Newport. All my sponsors were in the area, it just worked out. I’ve kept my main base in Orange County ever since.
When was the last time you were in a position where a winning a World Title was achievable?
It was the 2010/2011 season going into Tahiti. I got injured and the next event was New York; it put me out for New York and Lowers. I finished second behind Kelly [Slater] that year.
Are you approaching anything differently this year?
I’ve made a mental shift. More than anything I’ve stopped wearing the bad results and overcompensating – just living each day for what it is and not thinking too far ahead or behind. But, mostly, it’s believing in myself. Also, I’ve been taking care of my body. In the past, the injuries have always come at a bad time. Right now, I’m at the best fighting weight I’ve been. When your body feels good, so does your mind.
What’s your day to day program?
Just taking it easy. I wake up around 630 am. Get some coffee, have brekkie, then take a walk down to Lowers and surf for two hours. I come home, watch the footage from the morning and get lunch. Then sometimes I’ll take a drive down to The Channel Islands shop in Oceanside to work on some boards, and get them dialed in for the next event. The last two weeks, it’s been a lot of that. I just picked up my wife from the airport yesterday, so I’m going to spend a bit of time with her now that she’s back home.
Now that you have the Yellow Jersey, is there more pressure heading into Lowers – an event that you’re notoriously a favorite to win?
Obviously, there’s some pressure. But, I’m going to take the rest of the year exactly how I take every event. Just because I’ve done well in the past at Lowers, doesn’t mean I’m going to do well this year. Same way as I’ve never really done well at Teahupoo and this year I finished in the semis. In surfing you just never know.
Who are your biggest threats?
I’m not trying to think too much about what everyone else is doing. I’ve found if I just focus on myself, I’ll get the best results and cancel out the noise. But if there’s anyone that I think really wants it this year, it’s John [Florence] and Owen [Wright]. Both John and Owen surf so well in the four remaining locations; they’re weapons.
What’s it take to be a top 5 surfer on the CT this year? The level of dedication and athleticism has changed. Are you guilty of that dirty word, “training”?
Surfing is getting to its peak. The days of guys hanging out all day then paddling out and expecting to win are over. But, the word training I think has taken on a different form now. It used to mean just going to the gym. I don’t think that’s it. It can be anything from eating right to dialling in your equipment, to mental and physical stuff. It’s all the crumbs that make the loaf of bread.