By Shaun Gillham
JEFFREYS Bay’s famous Billabong Pro has been axed from the ASP World Championship Tour (WCT) after being recognised for 26 years as one of the world’s premier surfing events.
Last week’s surprise announcement that the iconic event would be radically scaled down has sent shock waves through the local and global surfing community, with many people likening it to “tennis losing Wimbledon”.
The Billabong Pro was South Africa’s only official leg in the tour which each year has attracted the world’s top professional surfers – and significant revenue for Eastern Cape tourism.
Recognised as one of the jewels in the ASP crown, the contest will now be downgraded to a six-star event due to financial difficulties experienced by the multi-national Billabong surfwear company.
This is a grade below the main tour, which means it will no longer attract the world’s best or the throngs of spectators from around South Africa and the world.
Speaking from Australia where he was competing in the Quicksilver Pro, South African surfer Jordi Smith, last year’s Billabong champion, said the decision was extremely disappointing.
“This is really rough, but it is one of those things. One has to take the economics into account. But even so, and I suppose because I was successful there, it is painful that J-Bay won’t host a WCT event,” said Smith, the country’s leading surfer and ranked among the top five in the world.
Kouga Municipality spokeswoman Laura-Leigh Randall said the decision was a “major disappointment” for Jeffreys Bay and the Kouga area.
“The Billabong Pro was this area’s premier sporting event. Beyond the sporting aspect, the event has been helping to put Jeffreys Bay on the world map for decades. It is a great disappointment for this area,” she said.
Comments slamming the decision has abounded on local and international surfing websites, including the ASP’s.
The surfwear company, whose products are sold internationally and helped shape Jeffreys Bay – home of the Billabong brand in South Africa – into a global surfing mecca, announced earlier this month it was cutting jobs and closing shops.
Billabong said in a statement by the ASP: “The change in event status follows a broader review in which we are seeking to identify cost savings throughout the business. By retaining an event at Jeffreys Bay, it now provides two qualifying events back to back in the South African region. The move to an ASP six-star opens the event up to South Africa’s aspiring pro surfers for the first time in 20 years and ensures continuity of the event for local businesses in Jeffreys Bay.”
This is a shortened version of an article that first appeared in the print edition of Weekend Post on Saturday February 25, 2012.