At a press conference to mark the occasion that an 18-year-old Jeremy Flores had won the 2006 Qualifying Series (QS) and qualified for the then-ASP Top 44, a French journalist asked if Jeremy or his advisors had considered him not taking his spot among the Top 44 immediately, as Taj Burrow had done a few years previously.
The question was routinely dismissed, and Jeremy took his spot on Tour and had an immediate impact. It was apparent that Flores' fierce competitive drive showed little regard for rank or reputation.
Instead, he relished the opportunity to take on the sport's biggest names. He certainly seemed ready. In Tahiti, at what was only his third event on the Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour (CT), he knocked Kelly Slater out in the early rounds. He went on to complete a freshman season that's only been bettered a handful of times in Tour history, finishing No. 8 in the world and winning the prestigious Rookie of the Year award.
Ten years on, Flores is the most successful European pro surfer of all time. His CT wins have come at Pipeline (2010) and Teahupo'o (2015) -- two of the most revered venues on the planet. During the infamous code red swell at Teahupo'o in 2011, Jeremy excelled in some of the heaviest conditions ever witnessed in competition, joining an exclusive perfect heat club (scoring 20 out of 20), and was given the inaugural Andy Irons Forever Award for his efforts.
It should come as little surprise, then, which accolade meant more to him. Andy had been in equal parts friend, hero, and mentor to Flores. That event at Teahupo'o would become a defining moment for him, silencing any critics who still had lingering doubts that Flores, who came on Tour still only half-grown, was some kind of beachbreak specialist.
But Tour life hasn't always been smooth sailing for a surfer raised in the Indian Ocean tropic idylls of Reunion Island and Madagascar. Flores has had his fair share of controversies, usually played out in the full public glare.
A polarizing figure by his own admission, Flores' current public persona probably goes something like this: incredible tube rider, uncompromising competitor, never one to duck a question in a post-heat interview. But what's perhaps less appreciated, and certainly less likely to go wide, are some of his philanthropic deeds. He sponsored Johanne Defay to do the Tour, he's built a training centre to help develop youth talent in Hossegor. He's been a quiet benefactor to other causes in the broader surfing family, and he's made a film about the shark situation in his native Reunion Island.
For such a storied campaigner, it's easy to forget that Jeremy Flores is still only 28, an age when in many sports, athletes are considered to be coming into their prime. Of his 10 CT campaigns, five resulted in Top 10 finishes, but a lackluster season in 2016 has seen him scramble for results on the Qualifying Series to stay on Tour. The one bright spot was his performance in Portugal, with one heat in particular: In Round Three, he faced Gabriel Medina in a battle that was vintage Flores, with an inspired performance that made for one of the most entertaining heats of the year.
In a recent magazine interview, Flores was asked if ever thought he'd joined the Tour too early, a theme that's revisited anytime he's faced with adversity, ever since that press conference back in early 2007.
Unsurprisingly, he remains resolute. "I was 18 and on Tour with Occy, Kelly and Andy. That's a golden age right there. I wouldn't change a single thing."
Catch Flores and the rest of the Top 32 surfing in the Billabong Pipe Masters from Dec. 8 - 20. Watch live daily on the WSL app and website.