“It’s an indescribable sight,” South African pro surfer Marc Price said of Jeffreys Bay in 1982. “Watching from the beach, you start off facing right and end up facing left as the wave travels down the point. This 180-degree perspective is something no photograph can capture.” And seemingly, surfboards have forgotten how to as well. When high-performance shortboards became thinner and narrower and shorter, the speed and performance levels at J-Bay among pro surfers declined as their boards wouldn’t hold the kind of sustained turns and propulsion that proper J-Bay surfing demands.

Even Kelly Slater struggles to find the right lines these days. And making it through the “Impossibles” section”, once the golden ticket of the entire wave, is now almost unheard of. Exasperation could also be heard in the voice of the once supreme master of the wave, 1977 World Champion Shaun Tomson, as he helped out with a recent WSL broadcast there. At one point, after watching wave after wave pass the best surfers in the world like speeding freight trains, he muttered that he might paddle out on a proper board and show them how it is done.

Still, these new performances, which often treat the wave as beach break ramps, chopping it up into short sections than maintaining one long study in elegance, are amusing if nothing else. The all Brazilian final of last year’s WSL event seemed to illustrate at least some of the squandered potential of the wave. Which raises the question. Is the standardization of today’s pro boards standardizing the performances themselves? Each wave, each ocean, has a different electrical charge within it. Are today’s pro surfers plugging the same light bulbs into it?

Casting a common light, rather than the uncommon, “indescribable” experience that a wave like J-Bay can inspire? We are not facers of reality. We are creators of it. Individuality has always been the hallmark of surfing’s rebel soul. So where do we go from here? Refinement? Or revamping? After all, surfing is not a matter of who you want to watch. It’s what you want to watch.

Photography by Pete Frieden


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