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News provided by ASP World Tour on 11 July 2005

Billabong founder Gordon Merchant is expecting the world’s best surfers to turn on an epic show in the upcoming Foster’s ASP Men’s World Championship Tour (WCT) event at Jeffreys Bay – a wave which has played an integral role in his own life.

The Billabong Pro will prove crucial in the race for this year’s ASP world title after the ratings opened up when the top five seeded surfers tumbled out early in the previous event at Reunion Island.

With the swell rising at the world famous break, organisers are hopeful of a round one start tomorrow morning (Tuesday July 12).

Merchant, who is one of the world’s most successful surfing entrepreneurs, has a long association with J-Bay, witnessing its development from a three-shop fishing village into the booming surf town that it is today.

On his first adventure in 1968 he traveled for three weeks from Sydney to Cape Town, with six other cabin passengers, in the bowels of a Greek Ocean Liner.

Still a keen surfer, Merchant, who has spent the past month in Jeffreys Bay with his family – partner Debbie and three-year-old son Keoni – knows that the top ranks will be going all out for a result at the high performance wave.

“This, event is going to be do or die,” said Merchant. “There is going to be a lot of surfers out there trying very hard. You have to have a great style and plenty of ability to surf Jeffreys Bay. It really glares if you don’t cut it out here.

“It’s a totally different place now. To see it today and to see the way that it’s ridden, is quite phenomenal, when you think back on what we were riding and what we were doing all those years ago.”

Merchant who went on to create the global surfing brand, Billabong, with his former partner Rena in 1973 on Australia’s Gold Coast spent his first visit living on the point in a tent followed by six months living in a shed.

He helped revolutionise the shape of surfboards by developing the now world-wide standard tucked under ridge rail, helping to modernized South Africa’s board shaping industry.

“When I arrived in 1968 they had just started to surf short boards, but they were pretty crude,” said Merchant from his Jeffreys Bay home that looks directly into the line-up. “I think the boards I shaped for locals John Bachaledor and Tony Wright were the first V bottoms – well the first V bottoms that they saw in Sth Africa anyway.

“I think they were about seven feet long. I learnt a lot from surfing here. It’s such a demanding wave and the boards we had were so slow. Midget Farrelly bought the first down rail when he came in 1969 – his board was really fast but it had no maneuverability. I just used to think about how I could combine the two and get boards to have that speed and also maneuverability. The tucked under edge rail was developed from the experience I gained while living in J-Bay.”

The location has also played a major role in the development of his business success.

“J-Bay has been a huge part of Billabong and also for me personally,” he continues. “It has made my overall experience in surfing richer.”

In 1984 – the year Mark Occhilupo redefined backhand surfing at J-Bay – Merchant offered Country Feeling clothing owner Cheron Kraak the Billabong label in South Africa.

Now regarded as the unofficial Mayoress of J-Bay, Kraak is the Billabong South African licensee and the only female senior surf industry owner operator in the world.

Her company employs more than 200 people and is the biggest business in town.

Kraak initiated the J-Bay surfing tournament in the early 1980s and it since has become the most prestigious and longest running event on the South African coastline.

“I met Cheron here some 20 plus years ago,” continued Merchant. “While I was in SA looking for a licensee, Cheron had her own brand Country Feeling and was doing a great job with it. We got talking and she said she'd like to take Billabong on. I don't think Cheron took Billabong seriously at first, but when she found it really taking off, she got behind it and it just flew to where we are today.

“A big part of the history of Billabong is here. I have always loved the place, I have been back many times and I always look forward to coming over and giving Cheron a hand while hanging out and going surfing.”

When asked for his event tip Merchant said: “There are a lot surfer’s who have great styles and the ability to surf this place and they all could easily win it. Andy’s there [Andy Irons, Hawaii], Joel’s there [Joel Parkinson, Australia] and Kelly for sure [Kelly Slater, USA]. There are so many other guys who could easily win it like Mick [Mick Fanning, Australia] and two-times winner Jake Paterson. One thing is for sure, no-one will be holding back out there.”

Reigning three-time world champion Irons, former six-times world champion Slater, Parkinson, Fanning and Paterson are all previous Billabong Pro J-Bay champions.

Fresh from his recent Reunion WCT victory Fanning has already been turning heads in the one metre (2-3ft) waves on offer this week.

“I’m feeling confident and under no pressure. I’m looking forward to competing,” said the current world no.3. “There is talk of a swell coming so we could be in for another great event.”

A solid swell is predicted to arrive for the commencement of the Billabong Pro but some concerns are held over wind direction and strength on Tuesday, the first day of the 11-day waiting period from July 12 to 22. However the overall forecast is positive and only a total of four full days of competition is required to finalise the event. Organizers will assess conditions at 7am local time Tuesday for a decision.

Billabong Pro Live webcast: via each day of the event utilizing live coverage in English and Portuguese, with the event websites in English, Portuguese, Spanish and French. Various camera angles, highlights and replays, weather and scoring information, direct viewer interaction, celebrity guests, interviews and more are a part of the daily webcast program.

The Billabong Pro is supported by South African Airways; Von Zipper; Kustom; Kouga Municipality; True Technologies; Blackfoot Productions; Dirk Ellis Motors; Canon; Telkom SA; Avis; Bonaqua; Vodacom.


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