Winding through the NSW hinterland en route to the contest this morning, the story book scenery served as a treat for my eyes while the  Quiksilver pro webcast supplied the auditory entertainment. Suddenly I was back there all over again, the voices of Pottz and Turps filling the space of the Jeep like old friends along for the drive. Turps’ irrepressible positivity played against Pottz’s gruff honesty. Somehow the combination still works. Michel Bourez was still the ‘Spartan’ for Turps while apparently rookie, Michael Rodriguez, was going to challenge Toledo for the title of the tour’s most exciting aerial surfer. Ultimately his wings were clipped by the famously muscular Tahitian.

The early hearts had their moments, but there was one match up in the draw that seemed to trump all others for its pyrotechnic possibilities. John John the untouchable world champion Vs Mikey Wright, pro surfing’s ultimate anti-hero and Griffin Colapinto, the dynamic SoCal rookie. Griffin, one excited surf photographer recently assured me, was the new Dane Reynolds, but with a competitive streak.

I arrived just in time to watch it live alongside my favourite cynical surf fan, Duffy. Almost instantly the heat was reduced to an ego battle between John John and Mikey, who scrapped for the inside, each desperate to prove they could ride deepest. John is the world champ, but Mikey, fresh off a win at Newcastle and an imperious Hawaiian season out of a singlet, is probably the most hyped non-WCT surfer in the world.  It’s easy to see that the free-surfer in Florence would loathe to be outshone by surfing’s punk prince. Meanwhile, Mikey the mullet knew that victory over the blonde-locked champ’ would be the ultimate validation for his full-throttle act.

Both surfers seemed to just want it a little too much. As it was John John launched on his opening ride, but failed to complete his lofted spin and Mikey pulled in too deep to make it through a chocolate milkshake barrel. “He’s just hunting the gurgle,” offered Duff with a throaty chuckle.

Meanwhile Colapinto sat back and watched the egos grind, let them falter and then found the exit on a slabby barrel for his first ever wave as an official WCT member. By the time Griff released his fins on a silky front-side snap, the judges locked in a 7.67 and gave him control of a heat where there seemed to be few major scoring opportunities.

Ultimately, not even John John’s patented ‘pretty hands’ slash could save him and Griffin cruised to victory in a confidence-boosting encounter.

Talking to Tracks post-heat Griffin acknowledged that he’d capitalised when Mikey and John John got preoccupied with their own separate clash. “Mikey and John were both battling to be the deepest and I was like, ‘ I don’t really want to deal with this right now’ and it I just backed off and they both got two waves and ended up falling and I had first priority and then that perfect one came through and I was on it.” 

While suggesting he wasn’t nervous, Griffin was well aware that he had a tough draw for his first official WCT heat.

“I knew it was the hardest heat of the round, I thought. I just thought if I can try and get on the best waves then anyone can ring.”

Quizzed about the commentary surrounding his own debut on tour he took a shot at the doubters. “A lot of people were saying I was going to get knocked out second round but I’ve proved them wrong so far… ”

John John still looks unstoppable in free surfs but didn't find the right zone for contests today. Photo: Ben Bugden

For one so young, Colapinto appears to have an abundance of self-confidence. Not cockiness, but just the right mix of self-belief, ability and humility to make him a strong competitor who won’t be intimidated easily. One heat does not maketh the man, but it was undeniably a most convincing start for the surfer who, along with Kolohe Andino, is increasingly emerging as the main source of hope for USA surfing fans.