Fioravanti officially on tour after a heavy-duty tube duel
It was cruel, it was cut-throat but it was also compelling to watch. The three-heat surf off between Mikey Wright and Leonardo Fioravanti was probably the most radical thing the WSL has ever done.
It was pro surfing’s punk rebel with the raw approach up against its sophisticated multi-lingual, European ambassador. Both surfers were from the Quiksilver camp, no doubt with serious financial incentives on the line.
Up for grabs? The last official spot on the CT. Win and you were in the main game for the rest of the 2021 season. Lose and you risked being banished to the QS underworld.
Mikey Wright will be very disappointed. After claiming the first of the three heat exchanges he had the highest score ( a 7.17) in the second heat and an excellent opportunity to shut the door yesterday. However, the eternally frenetic Fioravanti stayed busy and made it one-one with a couple of mid-range scores as Mikey failed to find a back-up in solid Pipe conditions.
This morning the swell went more North and dropped, ensuring the deciding heat would be held in cute, Backdoor runners. None of the yawning, ten-foot tee-pees we saw yesterday but still very contestable.
Leo stuck to his typical game plan and stayed busy from the get-go. Again mid-range scores put him in a solid, early position.
Mid-way through the heat Mikey turned up the intensity with a 7.17 and put himself right back in the equation. “This is a soap opera,” exclaimed Ross Williams who was making a welcome return to the commentary box.
However, just when Mikey looked to have his claws in the heat, Leo broke the hearts of Oz fans with a long, Backdoor drainer, earning bonus points for a silky, air reverse. The judges dropped an 8.5 and sealed Leo’s destiny as an official member of the 2021 tour. He was back in a singlet two heats later for the official Pipe Masters event.
Will we see Mikey's return? One senses another lap of the QS will be laborious for the lanky-limbed Australian. The CT waves really allow him to showcase his unique brand of flamboyance. There is no doubt he has the talent to requalify through the QS, but the question is will he have the motivation? Mikey’s 2018 qualification came courtesy of a series of wildcard entries into CT events. Some competitors even suggested Mikey received a leg up from the WSL casting agents who knew that the mullet-wearing, heavy-hitting natural footer helped maximise ratings.
The good news for Mikey fans is that he will be the first alternate for CT contests, should anyone elect to drop-out. He will likely get a start in multiple events throughout the year and will no doubt be hell-bent on becoming a wildcard qualifier again. However, there is also a good chance he will have to earn his spot back on tour the hard way, via the QS.
As for the surf- off concept? The WSL could have been accused of shifting the goal-posts. Initially, it was meant to be a surf off between Leo and Mikey in the first three events of the season. Both were scheduled to start in the official contest lineups and whoever had the most points after three events would claim the permanent slot. Right now Mikey may be wishing the WSL stuck to the original plan.
All that aside, in my view the surf-off was a roaring success. Even as it stretched over two days it was compelling to watch. Can the WSL find other reasons to have three heat surf offs between two surfers? Surely tossing John John and Medina out at maxing Chopes for a best of three would be fun to watch? And it seems likely that surf-offs will become the preferred way of deciding who gets an annual wildcard when more than one surfer has a compelling case regarding injury. Bring it on!
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