The World Surf League has confirmed that the women will once again be competing in the 2019 Corona JBay Open championship tour event taking place in July. After an 18-year hiatus – the girls last surfed here in 2000 – they were invited back last year for the first time.
The WSL has undergone remarkable changes over the last four years, and one of them has been their approach and relationship with the best female surfers in the world. In the past the women’s division was often considered sub-par with the men, and they were often sent out in small conditions or when it wasn’t deemed good enough for the men. The women were also chasing a much smaller piece of the pie, with their prize money a mere percentage of what they men had on offer.
This has changed, and the women are now on an equal footing with the men in terms of events, conditions and prize money. There is prize money parity, the women have enough of their own events now, and there is even a big wave tour for the women, with Hawaiian charger Keala Kennelly the new word champion.
In JBay for the Corona JBay Open, the ladies have also been invited back with open arms. All of the competitors that are still on tour will be returning, along with a few fresh faces, and some energised young surfers.
Last year’s winner, Stephanie Gilmore from Australia is a multi-world champion, having taken the title seven times, and is one of the most stylish surfers ever to stand up on a surfboard. She won the event with a fluid and smooth approach to the waves of Supertubes, whereas her opponent Lakey Peterson had a much more aggressive approach, tearing the waves apart and throwing spray everywhere. The judges opted for the smooth beauty in Steph’s approach, awarding her with the Corona JBay Open Women’s win. Steph will be back in South Africa, along with the rest of the women’s tour.
Surfers like Steph and Lakey along with the more established surfers will be under pressure from the young blood coming through the ranks and champing for some time on the podium.
In the first event of the year – the Boost Mobile Pro Gold Coast – it was 17-year-old Caroline Marks from the United States who upset the applecart by taking the first win of the year.
In small beachbreak conditions at Duranbah on the Gold Coast in Australia, Marks beat three times WSL World Champion Carissa Moore from Hawaii in the final, taking out Stephanie Gilmore along the way. Caroline, along with Macy Callaghan from Australia, represents the new breed of young female surfers ready to take on the old guard and recalibrate the way that female surfing is considered and judged. Her performance in JBay last year was impressive, especially when the surf got a bit bigger, and she impressed all and sundry with her powerful backhand attack.
Last year also saw popular former Championship Tour surfer Bianca Buitendag from Victoria Bay entered into the event through a wildcard entry. Also a goofy-footed surfer (right foot forward) Bianca also surfed out of her skin for an excellent semi-final finish and a third place. The WSL will announce closer to the time who the 2019 wildcard will be.
The Corona Open JBay is the anchor event of the JBay Winterfest, the sports festival that takes place every year in JBay. Apart from the surfing, there is trail running, funduro, skins fishing, bowls and live music in the park,
For more go to www.jbaywinterfest.com.
Photos by WSL/Dunbar and Cestari.