As the penultimate event of the season, the Corona Open J-Bay was a make or break event for many surfers looking to lock in a spot in the final five of this year’s Championship Tour. Conditions matched the stakes from the get-go, with J-Bay turning on from the beginning of the event window and offering up some of the most dreamy conditions imaginable over three days of high-intensity competitions. This is how the men’s event went down.
With pumping conditions on tap, it was the locals taking centre stage from the outset of the men’s Corona Open. Matthew McGillivray, on the wave he grew up surfing, was brilliant in the first heat of the event, putting up what would prove to be a round-high heat total of 15.33 to advance straight through to the Round of 16. Luke Thompson, as a late entry to the contest, was also great in the third heat in putting up 14.77, though much to the dismay of the home crowd he was pipped by Jack Robinson. Elsewhere, Ethan Ewing, Nat Young and Connor O’Leary also scored in excess of 14 in their heats, while notable names who failed to avoid the Elimination Round included Griffin Colapinto, Italo Ferreira and Filipe Toledo.
There were seven Brazilians in the contest, and with one of them in each of the first five heats of the Elimination Round they quickly took over. Toledo won the first easily, before Miguel Pupo followed suit, then Ferreira, then Caio Ibelli. The trend ended in the fifth heat when Colapinto knocked out Jadson Andre, before Kelly Slater knocked off Barron Mamiya in the next. The round ended with Callum Robson, still boasting an outside chance of making the WSL Finals, knocking off countryman Jackson Baker, before local favourite Jordy Smith was a popular winner of an entertaining heat, beating Kolohe Andino 16.93-14.80.
Round of 16
With conditions continuing to improve, high scores were always going to be required to advance past the Round of 16. Toledo, the world’s number one surfer and a two-time winner here, kicked off the round with a 12.83, but in a huge upset he was defeated by Yago Dora, who surfed brilliantly en route to a 15.17. As it turned out, that was the kind of score needed to win a heat; in fact it was the second lowest winning heat total of the round. Robinson knocked out Slater in Heat #2 before Sammy Pupo beat Robson, while Ferreira showed why goofy-footers shouldn’t be underestimated at the peeling right-hander by putting up a 17.64 to knock out Young in the fourth heat of the round. Kanoa Igarashi and O’Leary were next to advance, Smith continued on his merry way with another huge heat total (16.77), before Ewing won a high-scoring heat against the impressive McGillivray.
Toledo’s early exit opened the door for Robinson to close the gap on first place, and he duly obliged by knocking out Sammy Pupo with relative ease in the first quarterfinal. Igarashi was next to advance; he made his first semi since Hawaii to keep himself in the WSL Finals hunt, knocking out Ferreira in an important heat 15.43-15.00. That left Dora as the only remaining Brazilian in the field, and he carried the flag with aplomb, beating O’Leary easily. In the last quarterfinal, Smith couldn’t replicate his brilliant surfing from previous rounds, and though his opponent in Ewing only managed an 11.50 heat total, that was comfortably enough to advance.
With three of the four remaining surfers well and truly in the mix to compete at Trestles, there was plenty on the line in the heaving South African conditions, and Robinson was the first to take advantage. Igarashi was a gallant competitor, putting together a 13.17 heat total, but that fell well short of the in-form Aussie’s 15.80. The second semi saw Dora pitted against Ewing, who was searching for a much-deserved maiden CT win, and the heat turned out to be one of the best of the year. Both surfers managed three waves in excess of 7, with Dora’s top two giving him a heat total of 16.87. However, Ewing’s first wave, a 9.07, led him to a 17.04, meaning he made his way to his first ever CT final to face his compatriot and one of the leading world title contenders this year.
And as was the case in Ewing’s semi, this one went down to the wire. Both Robinson and Ewing surfed brilliantly, putting together multiple big scores, and with the former’s first being awarded an 8.83, Ewing was going to need to reach deep into his bag of tricks to steal victory. And deep he did reach. On his fourth wave, Ewing put together the best wave of the heat, and that 9.13 was enough to give him a 16.80-16.30 win and his first ever CT victory.
The biggest mover following the result at the Corona Open J-Bay was, unsurprisingly, Ewing, who jumped from fifth place to third place and now has a more-than-5,000-point advantage over the sixth-placed Igarashi. That means that he has almost certainly locked up a spot at the WSL Finals; if he makes the quarterfinals at the final event in Tahiti he is a mathematical certainty, but even if he falls short of that a number of results would have to go against him to drop out.
Ferreira and Colapinto both dropped a spot to fourth and fifth respectively, and the latter in particular is in danger of falling out of the top five. He is sitting just ahead of Igarashi in sixth, so if he fails to fire in Tahiti he could easily miss the finals. After Igarashi there is a significant drop in points back to Robson in seventh, though the likes of he, Miguel Pupo, O’Leary, and most notably John John Florence could still theoretically jump into the finals with a win in the last event of the season.
At the top of the leaderboard, Toledo’s early exit didn’t impact him a great deal; he’s still more than 5,000 points clear in top spot, while Robinson behind him is more than 7,000 points clear of Ewing in third. It looks likely that they’ll finish first and second in that order, and be in the box seat for the world title heading to Trestles.
What’s Up Next?
The tenth and final event of the season is next up, with the Outerknown Tahiti Pro at Teahupo’o set to decide the final five. A heaving left-hand barrel, this is one of the heaviest waves in the world and one which will suit some surfers a hell of a lot more than others. The event window runs from the 11th through to the 21st of August, and with this event literally determining who will get a chance to compete for the world title, it will be the most hyped of the season to date.