Meanwhile Reef Heazlewood is the hero of the day
While a whopping 32 surfers contested round three of the men’s event there were three operating on another level. John John Florence, Gabriel Medina and Italo Ferreira were other-worldly on a day that was not without its dramas.
Perhaps there have been doubts about John John Florence. Would a year in the wilderness, foiling and sailing and having all that fun make him wonder if the world tour was really where he wanted to be? If he was lacklustre in round one, this morning John John was back to his competitive best, bending through turns like a piece of twisted silk jinking in the wind. There is a certain artistry to John John’s surfing that his rivals don’t possess; what the French might call a je ne sais quoi. English speaking nations might label it an X-factor. It’s something to do with the absence of unnecessary effort and those ‘quiet arms’ that Martin Potter keeps referencing – all that economy of movement coupled with turns that have an extremely high degree of difficulty.
After he dispensed with Ace Buchan it was good to see John John proclaim that he was enjoying being back in a competitive arena. He also suggested that seeing Gabriel Medina win the title fuelled his own desire to be back in the hunt for another world crown. If John John is talking up the rivalry with his Brazilian nemesis then it can only be a good thing for surfing.
Meanwhile, Medina showed why John John will have to be at his most brilliant if he wants to stifle Gabriel’s irrepressible momentum. Where others poked at lips Medina murdered them, where they hovered beyond the lip, Medina soared and where they knifed a rail, he was wielding an axe. Gabriel makes it look like he is running on twelve cylinders while the rest of the field are on eight – if they’re lucky. Where Gabriel gets the fuel for that big internal motor is hard to know, but if John John is a perfect example of energy managed then Gabriel is the poster boy for an approach where maximum energy is expended. His wave count is high and it’s as if he wants to win the heat twice – once on the face and then once in the air – just to prove a point. As Mick Fanning suggests he has all the weapons. On the wave of the day he was not content with a single, sky-scraping straight air and backed it up with a dizzying rotation for a 9.80.
Perhaps in Italo Ferreira Medina has a goofy foot equal. Italo certainly has the talent and he is also rapidly acquiring the mindset of a consistent winner. No one approaches a ramp with quite as much speed as Italo – it’s actually frightening when you see it live. Careening towards a big, five foot, D’bah section it’s like watching a rabbit run at a Mack-truck and then jump right over it at the last second.
As he showed by out-classing the air aficionados in the Red Bull Airborne series, Italo’s airs have a degree of sophistication and technical difficulty that is arguably unrivalled on the WCT. Out of the water he is a little different to Medina. While Gabriel creates an impenetrable bubble with an entourage led by step-dad Charlie, Italo is more likely to be high-fiving a random guy in the surf and feeding off the energy of fans that just want to say hi. The bleached hair, the pink suits ( see the WSL Awards) and the colourful board sprays give his overall act a flamboyance that is helping to make him one of the most popular surfers on tour.
If John, Gabriel and Italo were outstanding then Julian Wilson was of course the day’s biggest disappointment. Julian surfed well but he didn’t surf great, which is what he needed to do against wildcard sugar-glider Reef Heazlewood. Running hot after a second place finish in yesterday’s Airborne event everyone expected Reef to use the southerly updrafts to skywalk on the lefts. Instead it was tail-tweaked backside hangers that did the damage for the Noosa goofy footer who was infamously dropped by his sponsor, Billabong, only to answer back by going on a rampage early this year ( he also claimed a second in the Volcom Pipe Pro).
Post-heat, Reef indicated that his inclusion in the Quiksilver Pro came as a surprise. “Coming to Snapper I was just expecting to be in the Airborne and taking that seriously and then I got into this and I was just like, ‘alright I’m just going to have fun in the airborne’ and it was incredible. Everyone was frothing and having fun and I really look up to Filipe and Yago and Italo who are all doing both."
Reef suggested the he was looking to loft on the lefts, but adapted when the D’bah wedges propelled him in another direction.
“My goal was to go out there and just go big on the lefts . I got a couple but couldn’t really make it happen… Then I slid away from Julian and then this epic right wedge … it was the sickest wedge, it had the perfect wall and when I heard the score (an 8.07) I realised I didn’t need to go left. I can just go right and tag it two times… I was just stoked to be flexible and take the win.”
Asked whether it was likely we would see a major sponsor gracing his board soon, Reef was confident. “Hopefully not too much longer, but nothing in the works just yet.” Australian surfing desperately needs a couple of contenders and after he proved he can beat the best in style, surely someone will back Reef Heazlewood soon. As it was there was talk around the site of one lucky punter who did back him at 60-1 and got a princely sum of $6000 in return for his $100 dollar investment.
Credit should go to young Seth Moniz for taking out the day’s best toe-to-toe battle against Griffin Colapinto. Griffin is the kid with all the wraps who is being touted as a future contender, but Moniz refused to give up and muscled his way to a second consecutive victory. For Australian fans Mikey Wright offered the best hope of something a little more special. His best wave was superbly described by beach commentator, Terry McKenna, as a, “Medley of King Hits”. Unfortunately for Oz fans Mikey’s sledgehammer belts came at the expense of Jack Freestone.
The most improved award goes to Yago Dora, who completes his high altitude airs and hefty backside hooks with more grace than anyone else on tour. His arsenal may be somewhat neutralized if action returns to Snapper Rocks, but the Brazilian air specialists has definitely found the zone. Meanwhile Toledo, despite a late run against Soli Bailey, has not done enough to put him in the company of John John, Gabriel and Italo. His round four match-up with John John Florence will be the perfect opportunity to prove that he belongs in the conversation.
Note: Just checked Snapper where there are twisted, back-wash ribbed, below sea-level barrels behind the rock. Very fun for those that know how but the judges would have to stand on the rocks to see the action alongside a cameraman. Some doozey match-ups in the next round wherever it goes down.