Interview: Jordy Smith Has Some Thoughts - Stab Mag

Interview: Jordy Smith Has Some Thoughts

Throughout 2019, I was able to travel with Jordy from Indonesia to South Africa and Hawaii, where he concluded his strongest and most consistent quest for the world title yet. I’ve watched Jordy surf with great admiration since he exploded onto the tour over a decade ago; his style the result of his immense stature constantly […]

Words by Morgan Maassen

Throughout 2019, I was able to travel with Jordy from Indonesia to South Africa and Hawaii, where he concluded his strongest and most consistent quest for the world title yet. I’ve watched Jordy surf with great admiration since he exploded onto the tour over a decade ago; his style the result of his immense stature constantly exploring its limitless power on a wave.

Jordy truly wears every hat and every hat well… a multi-dimensional surfer at the vanguard of performance, a competitor whose mind churns around success and a South African gentleman with endless confidence and a deep understanding of who he is. Making films like these is always a pleasure to my own filmmaker and inner-surfer, but the real treat is to come away admiring the person more than when you started—no matter how many sweaty, Indonesian boat rides, frustrating surf sessions, and rainy days in J-Bay later.

Morgan: Kicking this off, lets start with an introduction.

Jordy: I got given a name, Jordan Michael Smith, and I was born in Durban, ZA, and raised by two really important people: my mother and father. My father is a surfboard manufacturer. He never came from a lot of money, but made the most out of what he had, and just guided me in the right direction. Especially when it came to surfing. His love for the ocean really bestowed upon me, and one thing led to another. I think his love for surfing and love for the ocean really excited me, that’s how I got involved. I think when you’re younger, when you’re growing up… we never had a lot, but kids don’t need a lot. They just need love, guidance and support, and they’re heading in the right direction.

Jordy: Africa is a wild place. I think you grow up really fast, and I think you get to know the ins and outs of the world and how things work really quickly. For me, the friends I had in my neighborhood were really tough, kind of out-there people, and then my friends at the beach a bit older than i. I had the ability to become pretty mature at a young age, and I was fortunate enough that the relationship with my parents was really strong; it was an open policy relationship. We always made sure we were doing the right thing.

Morgan: What’s your background on competition…?

Jordy: When I was younger, I just wanted to win. It was never about against who, or what, it was more about just win win win. Whether it was playing soccer, skateboarding, running across the road, surfing, it didn’t really matter what it was, I think just that competitive drive was in me. That’s how it came about. My ambitions at the time… I’ve never been much of a dreamer, I’ve always just set goals. I’ve felt like dreams were not really possible, goals just felt way more realistic, way more achievable. In competition surfing, or in just competitive sports or even life, I think you need to be creative with ways to win. Theres just no one rule, or one way.

Forever and ever I was told as kid “you’re going to be big to be a professional surfer”. That was constantly repeated by everyone in my surroundings. My dad constantly drilled it in my head that technique is key. If you have perfect technique, nothing could stop you. And that became my focus from day one. And I had idols, people that I looked to… but it was always about the technique. And making sure it and my timing was perfect. And that was it. From a very young age just became very technique-driven, and I think that’s molded me into the surfer that I am. 

Morgan: Was there any interesting turning points when competition or surfing clicked for you? An insane adventure or wave?

Jordy: There were three moments that happened, pretty quickly one after another. The first was the ISA world champs in Durban, under 16: when I won that in my hometown on the beach, that gave me such an abundance of confidence, that at the end of that year I believe, I went and got second at sunset beach with Andy, Joel, and Freddy P in the final. And that continued the confidence of “wow, maybe I will be a professional surfer”, and then immediately after that I got an accidental wildcard slot into the contest at J-bay and I ended up placing third. And right at that moment, when I placed third at that Jbay CT event, it was like “I deserve to be on this tour. I can compete with the best in the world, when the waves are the best in the world.” I think I was 17, and that was when everything changed for me. especially mentally. 

It was so funny, I got into that event on accident. I didn’t get a wildcard gifted to me – they used to have the Von Zipper wildcard spots then, they’d run the trials when the waves were terrible, super small and inconsistent – anyways I lost out and my friend Wok Wright made it into the event, and the day before the event was to start, he decided to catch a left at J-bay and try to jump out the back, and landed on a barnacle and split his heel open, so he had to pull out. So the next guy left in the spot was me, so that’s how I got in.

Morgan: Amazing. Tell me about being home in Africa…

Jordy: I think for me, just being home, surfing in south Africa, is one of the best feelings I’ve had in a long time. I’ve been on the championship tour for thirteen years, and having this break has been so enjoyable. I’ve had the opportunity to go surf with family and friends, and just score these waves I’ve wanted to surf for such a long time. And that’s brought a whole lot of joy into my surfing, and I really hope that shows when we get back to it. 

So having that relationship, with places like J-bay… it doesn’t matter what time I show up, it could be howling onshore, but I’ve got this connection with the place. Originally, i used to think when I was a kid the J stood for Jordy, and I’d say “its Jordy’s bay. its Jordy’s bay”. And ever since the first time I surfed there, it’s been one of the greatest loves of my life, and I’m forever thankful.

Morgan: I gave this question to Dane a couples ago… and he went on to describe his favorite things in surfing. The movements, the moments, your creativity, the speed of racing down the line… what gratifies you?

Jordy: I think, for me, what really… when surfing becomes seamless, to me, that’s when it becomes perfect. When you’re able to push as hard as you can into something, and come out of it with no mistakes… I always see on all these clips that a lot of people – and I do too – when we do something, that’s the highlight, but that’s the highlight in the wave. So I think the whole wave needs to be in that rhythm, in that sync, where you shouldn’t have to double pump. Unless it’s the wave’s choice, how can you fit in perfectly with that wave? The technique, the speed. You need to be at the same speed as the wave moving. Ha. I don’t even know if I answered this question. There’s obviously the moments that get rewarded… but it’s the in-between moments that truly excite me.

Morgan: Micro and macro, what do you love and obsess over surfing?

Jordy: I honestly think the best thing in surfing is the happiness and joy it gives me. My career highlight is basically just going surfing with my dad. My greatest moment was probably this surf I had with my dad in Mozambique about two years ago, and there is nothing that can even compare to that. The waves were so fun, it was like 3-4 foot, barreling right handers. The joy I get out of that… I think he’s given me so much, so I’d rather him get a 3ft little running wave, than me get an 8ft barrel and blown out, it just gives me so much joy to watch him surf and for me to be a part of it, to paddle out together, for us to enjoy something we both love so much together.

Morgan: As far as where you are at currently, where is your mind at? What are you working towards?

Jordy: Right now, I’m trying to focus a lot on my body. And how much more percentage I can get out of my body in able to facilitate me being better in the ocean. So if you’re talking about surfing and percentages, the amount of work its going to take and time its going to take… I’m going to have to work for three years to get 5% better. 3 to 5% better. Then, if I work on my body and a few other aspects, the percentages are going to be 25-30% better. In a way shorter period of time. So that can equate to a bigger percentage in my surfing… so that’s my focus right now. What areas can I really benefit on? I think it’s more like, what percentage of your ability to you want to own? And that’s my question to myself. And I want 100% of my ability. So what do I need to do to achieve 100% of my potential? I need to take care of a/b/c/d, and that’s going to get 100% of my potential.

Morgan: Walk me through 2019…

Jordy: The last competitive year, 2019, that was really fun. It was a lot of new ventures that I went down, a lot of learning. My goal and my highlight was my consistency. That was my goal for the year, to be as consistent as I could be. Basically, I wanted to have my most consistent year, whatever the results would be. Whether I made six semi-finals, then that would be okay… it just needed to be consistent. There were obviously a few moments where I didn’t get the win, which would have taken everything from third place to first. If you’re looking up to that last event, where the statistics are like, the guy in first has 25 heat wins, the guy in second has 24, the guy in third has 24.. it’s so close in the end of the day, it really comes down to one or two heats. That was so interesting, when you look back on it like that, the whole year, 1 heat, 30 minutes, you know? Whether you win or lose. And that was it. There weren’t a lot of ups and downs. It was just 70%. The results and the consistency were there, at 70%, but they needed to be 80-85% to win. 

Morgan: Looking forward, tell me everything. You, Olympics, surfing, travel… you’ve been surfing competitively now for thirteen years on the CT, and in the QS & Juniors before that… and last year was arguably your best year yet. What does it feel like being so refined, but also still growing relentlessly?

Jordy: I think for me, I want to get a few more elements out of my surfing that I feel it can grow in. I’m not so sure at this current point in time where the sport of surfing is heading. It looks to be acrobatic, and do I see my future going that way? I’m not too sure at this point. I just want to be as open and honest with the way I’m surfing and hopefully that can relay in the wins at the end of the day. Every year in surfing has this little shift in what becomes fashionable, and that becomes the flavor of the year. You’re either on that train or not, but to be able to foresee what they’re going to look for for the years to come… its hard. I think having the knowledge to be able to identify that when it’s happening is the biggest key, the key to success for that year. 

For me as a person, having my feet on the ground for more than two months in one location, has been mind-blowing. I’ve really found myself looking at other ways to get creative with my mind and my body, and I think it’s only been beneficial. I don’t think I’ve had this much downtime since I was sixteen. I’m really enjoying it. I’ve just been constantly going for thirteen year, and to finally get this break, I think it’s going to make me come out even stronger.

Morgan: What is your outlook on surfing? Competitively, performance..

Jordy: I’ve thought a little bit about a few different ideas and concepts, and this could be a total stab in the dark, but what if… there is so much controversy in surfing, whether it’s the surfers, the judges, the spectators …. No one can really put a finger on how one guy wins or the other loses. It’s so subjective. So I thought, why wouldn’t we match apples to apples. For instance, Filipe did those two alley-oops at J-bay a couple years ago, whereas someone rides a wave from top to bottom and gets barreled off there head, and someone else turns like they’ve never turned before, from top to bottom. Who’s to say one is better than the other? They are all equal? They’re all 10’s, but how do you justify someone winning over the other person; I don’t really understand that. and in my mind, that’s because people are judging apples to oranges. I think it would be become a lot more clear-cut. If you’re at Pipeline, you do not go for an aerial, you get barreled. We are only scoring barrels. I think the same should apply when we go to Keramas. It should be high performance, above the lip surfing. And then you get to J-bay, and they should say “you need to stay on the face; everyone stays on the face” “we want to see you on the face from start to finish”. And that way it would become a lot easier to judge, not only for the judges but for the spectators to identify with. I think that would be a more beneficial way of scoring somebody.

Morgan: How about as far as surfing in general, non-competitive…

Jordy: Surfing in general, at the moment, definitely seems to be going way more acrobatic, that seems to be the flavor right now. But surfing goes through phases. The backside air gets really highly rewarded, then all of a sudden, backflips are in, but definitely at the moment it seems to be a lot more acrobatic. Personally, I’d like to see a bit more flow come back into it. What’s happening on the bottom turns, more-so than the top. A lot of people can be bottom-turning mid-face and not really using the full portion of the wave. It could be a generational thing. I come from a school of people and have looked up to people that are of way more drawn out carves and using the open face, and thats a rarity now. Most people can do air reverses now, but not so many people can lay a proper rail now. Who knows, maybe it will come back full circle?

Morgan: Considering contests and travel, what is your vision of surfing moving forward? Do you think its going to all be wave pools? Will everything go back to normal?

Jordy: I think everything will go back to normal, but in a sense of 30% less. I’m guessing there will definitely be a few more wave pools in the future. I think there just needs to be a clutch moment at the end of it, keep it all exciting.


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