Kelly Slater at JBay

Kelly at one of his favorites, J-Bay. Will we see him here again? Photo: WSL

The Inertia

When the news came out that J-Bay’s Championship Tour stop had to be axed due to a scheduling conflict with the Olympics, the locals were not happy. But even when I did some digging around the Jeffreys Bay surf community back in October of 2023, there were already rumblings of a replacement event in the works. 

Now that event has a name, the WSL J-Bay Classic, and the star-studded list of invitees and alternative format has been released. But I was curious how they convinced all these surfers to fly halfway around the world to participate, how they managed to scramble this one-of-a-kind event together behind the scenes, and, finally, if the GOAT was really going to bless the event with his presence. Thus, I had a chat with WSL Tour President Graham Stapelberg, one of the key players behind the creation of the event, to dive into the details and learn more about how things went down over the past few months. 

The list of invitees is pretty impressive. Is Kelly Slater actually going to compete?

Kelly said he is definitely interested in coming, but he just wants to be tentative for now because of the fact that he’s monitoring how Kalani (his partner) goes with her pregnancy. If everything’s looking good, then he plans to come over as well. 

Unfortunately, there were a couple other people who weren’t able to come although they really wanted to, like Mick Fanning had another commitment in Fiji that he had to go to, so did Joel (Parkinson).

What’s the incentive for all of these surfers to compete? Is there prize money?

It’s appearance fees and all accommodation is covered. At the end of the day we wanted to make sure that everyone felt good about coming over. The biggest draw card is perfect Supers with hardly anyone else out. And there are obviously trophies for the winners, but everyone’s getting an appearance fee. There’s an international fee and a local fee because, obviously, the locals don’t have to travel long distances to get to the event.

As far as the event production and broadcast, will it be just like a CT event?

It’s definitely going to be very different. And we’re not putting the same attention to some of what we would do at a CT. And again, this was more out of the fact that we felt it was really important to support the local community and ensure that we have continuity from one year to the next, because the goal is to bring this event back to the CT in 2025.

Red Bull’s coming in to support the event and all the athletes so we’re going to have a typical Red Bull athlete lounge area that we would have equivalents of on a CT. Corona’s coming in as the presenting sponsor to ensure continuity that we’ve had from last year, this year, and going forward in the future. A lot of the structure is going to be fairly similar, but we’ve also done a lot of other activations to create more of a festival around the event.

As far as the broadcast, we still got to land the plane, depending on who wants to take the media rights. If it doesn’t work out then we will be doing highlight packages and social media distribution every day instead of a full-blown broadcast. We haven’t made a decision yet.

As far as the behind-the-scenes process of getting the event together, as soon as you knew that J-Bay would be off the tour, were you immediately trying to find a replacement?

It’s been a long slog, no question. Out of respect to the municipality and the city, we notified the mayor (of the cancellation) and then behind the scenes we’ve been working with the mayor and other key stakeholders in the community to come up with a plan to run this specialty event. It’s been in the works since October, November of last year. But like all things, when it’s a new event, there’s a lot of work that goes into it and making sure that everyone’s comfortable with the direction and the concept behind it.

Is it safe to say that the goal of the event is not financially motivated, but just to keep the legacy going?

It’s definitely not financially motivated. It’s to shore up the future of the event, but also to certainly provide some security for the local community. The two biggest seasons for the businesses in Jeffreys Bay and the surrounding area is over Christmas/New Year’s and when the J-Bay event goes on. For them it was a big consideration. They were really concerned that nothing was happening over the key pivotal times of the year. That was a commitment from the WSL to the local community and, obviously, our existing sponsors that were involved in that event or brought into it as well.


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