In his two heat wins over Ace Buchan and John John Florence, Leo Fioravanti has managed to get in his opponents' grills just enough to cause a ripple of disturbance, but not enough to cause an actual interference. You know you are doing something right when you are making two of the most reasonable men on the Championship Tour question your motives.
In Round Two the Italian took off down the line on the same wave Buchan had caught with priority. The judges deemed that Ace was too deep and had no chance to make the tube. The Australian, perhaps unsurprisingly, made it clear to the judges that he should have been given the benefit of the doubt and that Fioravanti had impeded his progress. Either way it was a ballsy, split-second decision by the rookie that turned the heat and quite possibly his year. It was on that wave that he gained the score he needed to progress for his first CT win of 2017.
In his next heat, his first ever with the current World Champion, his tangle was far more subtle. Around the halfway mark John took off with priority, but was forced to go around the duck-diving Fioravanti. It was a minor redirection that the judges had no issue with, but Florence did raise his hands questioning his opponent's positioning.
Fioravanti was at pains to say that the maneuver was in no way premeditated or designed to influence the scoring potential of the wave. "I tried to go as deep as I could so that I wouldn't interfere with his wave," he said afterwards. "I actually think it worked perfectly for him as he went around me and straight into a big turn."
Of course, Florence might question that slightly. After all, for all his youth Fioravanti is still one of the smartest thinkers on tour. His decision-making is clear and confident and few are better at controlling the controllables. This is a man who, just 10 minutes before his heat, switched his surfboard from a 6'1" to 6'0" after noticing that the judges were rewarding the smaller waves as much as the sets. At this level heat wins can, literally, come down to thumb-size measurements.
Yet, you don't beat the best surfer in the world just by making him draw the slightest of different lines. You beat him with your surfing. "I had to surf as good as I could, but also make really smart choices," Leo said. "I felt I did it right, got the best waves of the heat and surfed them from top to bottom."
In doing so he provided a template for the rest to follow. O'Leary, Kennedy, Duru, and even Parkinson, beat more fancied opponents by hitting the lip and surfing square. With his confidence returning, Fioravanti's well-executed tactics are now turning into influence. Deep into the Outerknown Fiji Pro, he just might play a big role in the outcome of the entire event.