Standing atop the D’bah cliffs, just after seven a.m., a crowd of elevated onlookers watched on as John John Florence shattered the morning glass and broke Filipe Toledo’s spirit. John John made use of the windless, early morning to snuff out a worthy funnel and put Filipe on the back-foot pronto. On paper it was the heat of the round, but Toledo didn’t reply to John John’s finessed fin throws until late in the heat when he hucked an air reverse to the flats that had the judges adding a few extra decimal points for degree of difficulty. Although he didn’t completely blitz it, John John always looked in control against Filipe ,who disregarded his normal strategy of going big on as many waves as possible and relying on the fact that something would stick.

After the heat John John was keen to chat about why he is happy to be back on the WCT battlefield. When Tracks asked him what was the one key thing he learned in his time off, John John responded with the kind of answer that makes surfing fans rejoice and WSL executives tap dance with glee.

“I guess it was just that I do love being on tour. It’s a lot of fun at this point of my life. Sometimes you can kind of get lost competing non-stop, you know it’s so routine. I think when you take a break – take step back – and kind of let the routine go for a while, you come back and go, ‘Wow this is cool’. You have a lot more respect for these battles, battling against the best surfers in the world, win or lose, it’s a fun place to be in my life.”      

Not surprisingly, John John referenced Medina when pointing to the kinds of clashes he thrives on.  

“I’ve had heats, like with Gabe where we both have 18 or 19 points at Chopes, and you’re like ‘whoa this is gnarly, but if you lose you’re like ‘I did my best’. It’s awesome.”    

 When asked if he’s watched Medina and Italo go on a tirade yesterday John John was a little more circumspect.

“I didn’t watch Italo or Gabe’s heat but I know Gabe got something like 19 points, which is insane… No, my brain right now is more like what can I take away from an interesting heat, like more kind of tactics. I’m coming at it with a lot more curiosity and a view to learning more about competing and bettering myself, and little parts that I can take away from it. Those are the heats I like to go back and watch …

Kolohe Andino put on a composed performance to progress through to the quarter-finals. Photo: Swilly

As it was John John’s respectable 14.06 proved to be the second highest heat total of the day. There was to be no rampaging victories from Italo Ferreira or Gabriel Medina who both found themselves caught up in cagey affairs where they looked a little vulnerable. Italo (vs Cardoso) and Medina (vs Dora) have a similar strategy for dealing with heats where they are not stomping the big jumps – they simply default to turns and get the job done that way. Both fell on several air attempts in their encounters, but their respective approaches on the face are still sufficiently on edge to tail-whip past opposition.

However, Italo was far from satisfied with his win over compatriot Willian Cardoso and explained how he would rather deal with the opposition. “I would love to do some big airs and get some big scores and put the other guy in a combination.”

Italo is matched against Wade Carmichael in quarter final number four. Wherever it’s held one would expect Italo to capitalise on his flight facilities early on and try to send Wade to combo land. Despite staying grounded Carmichael posted the highest heat total of the day (14.43) in his heavyweight encounter with Michel Bourez. Wade also has the weight of Australian fans riding on his shoulders as the only Ozi remaining in the draw. The Beard with Eyes will have to be at his best to cut down Italo with his power-saw turns, but if his leaping Brazilian opponent has limited aerial opportunities (say at Snapper) then it will be a much more even playing field.

In addition to his ability to summon speed at will and win any which way, Medina’s other big asset is crowd support. Yes, we are in Australia, but no one commands as much attention at Coolangatta as Medina. Such is the hysteria surrounding the Medina camp that even step-dad, Charlie, has become a minor celebrity. Today I watched a fan pull Charlie aside and insist they get a Selfie together.

Perhaps all this Brazilian fanfare and talk is playing into the hands of Kolohe Andino and Jordy Smith. Kolohe looks slick, focussed and complete. He does everything well without anything particularly exceptional. If an opponent who is going for too much slips up, Kolohe will slide right past with his composed approach.

Ozi hopes are resting on the broad shoulders of Wade Carmichael. Photo: Swilly

Jordy Smith is adopting a more traditional contest approach – doing what’s required to get through ( which is quite a lot) each heat. However, if Gabriel goes into overdrive in their quarter-final, which is highly likely, Jordy will have to find another gear if he wants to keep up.  

Seth Moniz has already claimed the contest’s best break out performance. Seth has won three on the trot, all of them gritty encounters against tough opposition Julian Wilson, Griffin Colapinto and Reef Heazlewood). At the moment Seth is punching at around the same weight as Kolohe and goes in at even money for another upset.

Where do we go now? Paddling around the D’bah lineup this afternoon Mick Fanning suggested that D’bah could be all time in the morning with a slight kick in swell and clean conditions. However, the WSL are desperate to run at Snapper and all the contest area talk suggests they are aiming for a six-thirty call with a seven a.m. start at Snapper. Hopefully enough sand flows around the corner overnight to make it a straight-forward Snapper call, but it’s more likely there will be some serious debating between the surfers and the powers that be about where to hold the contest.