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Our Tips for the Men’s Corona Open J-Bay

After his victory at the Oi Rio Pro – his second of the year – Filipe Toledo has now locked in a spot in the WSL Finals at Trestles in September. The other four finals slots, however, are still up for grabs. With just two events left in the season, there are probably ten and potentially up to 15 surfers with a realistic chance of surfing at Trestles, and the result at the upcoming Corona Open J-Bay can and will have a massive impact on who ultimately gets the chance to surf for a world title. Taking place at what many believe to be the best right-hander in the world, let’s take a look at how the contest is shaping up.

The Favourites

Filipe Toledo continues to go from strength to strength this season, and with the tour now heading to one of his favourite waves it doesn’t seem likely that he will slow down anytime soon. The world number one is coming off his second win of the season at the Oi Rio Pro, making it five of the last six events that he has made it to the final. Unsurprisingly, that has given him a huge lead atop the world rankings, and assured him a spot at the WSL Finals regardless of what happens in the next two contests. He is the in-form surfer in the world, and has a fantastic record at J-Bay to boot; the last three times this event has been held, he’s won it twice and made a semi-final on the other occasion. The way he is surfing at the moment, it would be a surprise not to see him in the final, and he is deservedly the outright favourite to win the contest.

Though he is a long way behind Toledo in the world rankings, Jack Robinson has opened up a handy buffer on third place of his own, and sits nearly 6,000 points ahead of Italo Ferreira in third courtesy largely of consecutive victories at the Margaret River Pro and Quiksilver Pro G-Land. He hasn’t quite had the same impact at the last couple of contests and his Round of 16 loss in Rio was his worst result since Portugal in March, but with a bit of luck things could have easily been very different. He was dominant in his Opening Round heat there before being defeated by Mateus Herdy by the barest of margins, so the alarm bells won’t exactly be ringing too loudly just yet. He is still surfing as well as nearly anyone in the world and, like many of his fellow regular footers, should be well-suited by the long, peeling right-hander in his first ever CT contest at J-Bay.  

For close to 25 years, this contest was the domain of those regular footers, and in the first 20 editions of the tournament not a single surfer won here on their backhand. That all changed in 2019 when Gabriel Medina, up against compatriot Italo Ferreira in the final, put together a heat score of 19.5, the highest two-wave total in the history of the contest. This year has been a forgettable one for him from a surfing perspective after he missed the first half of the season, and last event he was a surprise loser in the Elimination Round at his home event. In the two other contests in which he’s surfed this year, however, he made it to the semi-finals, and having enjoyed success here in the past it would be no surprise to see him back on the podium.

The Next Tier

After a slow start to the season in Hawaii, Italo Ferreira has been in a consistent presence in the latter stages of virtually every tournament since. He’s made the quarterfinals at five of the past six contests, but despite that is yet to make a final, and at the Oi Rio Pro endured his second consecutive semi-final loss. He’s surfing at a high enough level to compete for the world title and, now in third place, appears destined for a second consecutive appearance in the WSL Finals, but nonetheless he’ll be eager to break past that semi-final barrier. As a goofy-footer, history is against him at this tournament, but he has long been very capable on his backhand. He was a runner-up at the last J-Bay Open and has won at Bells before – the most similar wave to this one on tour – so write him off at your own peril.

While Ferreira has been steady without being able to get through the past four, Griffin Colapinto has been the exact opposite, and his performance at the Oi Rio Pro was indicative of his troubles with consistency. After winning the Surf City El Salvador Pro the week prior, he was knocked out in the Elimination Round in Brazil; his fourth such result of the season in just eight events. Two contest wins, however – the other coming at the MEO Pro Portugal – means that he still finds himself sitting fourth in the world rankings and well and truly in the hunt for the world title. The inconsistency which has defined his season means that he will be vulnerable from the outset of the J-Bay Open, but at his best he is more than capable of taking this out. 

Equally inconsistent in his scoring patterns this season has been John John Florence, but it’s not through any fault of his own. Six events in, the two-time world champ was locked inside the top five and seemed destined to make it through to the WSL Finals, but an MCL injury meant he missed the last two events and is now sitting in sixth. He is in a race against time to make it to Trestles; if he can compete in both J-Bay and Tahiti, it’s very feasible and probably even likely that he will jump back into the top five, but his main issue might be actually getting in the water. He has missed this event through injury plenty of times in the past and has never won it, though he did make it through to the final in 2016. For all the concerns surrounding his durability, however, Florence remains unequivocally one of – if not the – best surfers in the world, and if he’s paddling out at J-Bay then he’s a chance of winning it. 

The Roughie

In just his second full season on tour, South African Matthew McGillivray has continued to develop as the year has worn on, advancing to a semi-final and a quarterfinal in the past four events and making the Round of 16 in the other two. After struggling at the beginning of the season he’s become a consistent threat in recent months, and never has he had a better chance to break through for a maiden event win than at the upcoming contest. McGillivray grew up in Jeffrey’s Bay, honing his powerful but smooth style at the famous break, and as a result is as familiar with the wave as probably anyone on the tour with the possible exception of Jordy Smith. The current world number 14 is still a long way behind the top surfers on tour, but with his experience at J-Bay and his current form he might pose a much bigger threat than his ranking would suggest.

Our Tip

There are plenty of surfers in this contest who have won or gone close to winning here in the past and various others who are capable of doing so this time around, but it’s tough to go past Toledo as the most likely to triumph. He has been close to unstoppable here in the past; probably the fastest surfer in the world, he is perfectly suited by the long walls of Jeffrey’s Bay, and his ability to go to the air means he has plenty of different ways to put together big scores at this wave. Having won two of the past three J-Bay Open’s, coming off a win in Rio and five finals appearances in six events, and sitting way out on top of the world rankings, he is clearly the man to beat.

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