John John Florence took an assured stride toward back-to-back World Titles at Supertubos this afternoon, seeing off an invigorated effort from Kolohe Andino in their Round Four match with Connor O'Leary. While Andino huffed and puffed, bringing radical, sharp surfing and a full investigation of contemporary repertoire, the World Champion did almost the barest minimum, essentially three maneuvers, in fact -- none of them as exuberant as an aerial sortie above the lip -- to see off the Californian's repeated assaults.
By doing so, Florence finds himself in the MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal Quarterfinals, and thus three heat wins (or possibly two depending on the fortunes of Gabriel Medina) away from retaining the World Title.
"Team spirit," declared 1980s Scottish soccer player Steve Archibald, "is an illusion only glimpsed in victory." Archibald's cynicism for locker room alchemy could well apply to key Championship Tour heat tactics, too. Perhaps successful surfing tactics are a similar retrospective construct, a convenient narrative confected post-heat, with perfect 20-20 hindsight. Or, perhaps Florence really was trying to seem in a class of his own today, to surf distinctly differently to all and sundry. Where smaller, high- performance conditions seemed to be demanding ballsy punts to the flats to put heats away, Florence clearly had other ideas.
Almost a caricature of himself this afternoon, Florence exhibited a total absence of flapping, physically or emotionally. Oozing self-assuredness, his famously still leading arm hung even more limp than ever. On completion of stinging turn or ride, his only discernible physical display was the silhouette of his mouth momentarily very slightly agape, a kind of buccal non-claim profile accentuated by his dripping- wet Nu Metal chin fluff. Meanwhile Andino, after landing a lofty alley-oop, gesticulated wildly at the tower like a frustrated Slytherin trying to get his wand to work in Hogwarts Charms Class. It worked, as he momentarily took the lead. But in the dying moments Florence eased into a deep, elongated tube in the closing stages for the score. And the day.
"I learned a lot last year and coming into this year I'm in a similar position but I'm having a lot more fun with it and enjoying the waves," said Florence. "I'm in a much better headspace than last year when I was nervous, and this year I'm going with it more and enjoying it. It's so important to soak up every moment and to have the support of the crowd is great -- I'm having so much fun."
The pair will face each other in Quarterfinal 2, after Andino dissected Leonardo Fioravanti in Round Five. That was surely a venting of earlier frustrations, as he nailed the day's highest score of 9.63 for a massive air-reverse with yet more celebratory arm flailing towards the panel (this time more like Ginger Baker-esque air drumming). For all the recent progression in surfing, and the tantalizing near-future possibilities posed by today's wave-riding elite, in terms of claiming, Joan Duru's recent punching himself in the face at the end of successful rides may have rendered all else in the genre obsolete.
Medina remains Florence's main adversary, after advancing to the Quarters in the bottom half of the draw, via a highly competent -- if little more -- display over Mick Fanning and Miguel Pupo. "I was almost too excited watching the previous heats and at the beginning -- I was kind of lost, I couldn't get a wave," Medina reflected. "Then I got that good right, my first score and then the air. I got a little confused with the scores but then I turned the heat. I'm super happy to be in the Quarters and I'm having fun, when you're having fun the scores come naturally."
Presumably, the relatively recent return to judging vogue of stock-ish air-reverses, which Medina can stomp at pretty much any point on any wave, will do for his comfort levels (in tight heats) what the return of '90s above-the-hip, baggy jeans has to men and women of a more generous thigh. Seldom short on default confidence anyway, coming into a tantalizing finals day, Medina can further motivate himself with the kind of siege mentality, "nobody loves us" locker room chat in which Steve Archibald doesn't believe. In fact, plenty do love him, and on the beach in Peniche at least, the noise-o-meter, calibrated for reigning World Champ status, is pretty much evenly split.
With both Florence and Medina, for now, with a World Title apiece, any Slater-Irons rivalry comparisons are not only a stretch ideologically, but statistically too. And perhaps it's lazy journalism to cast the Brazilian as pantomime villain, beautiful poised in the ultimate spoiler role to burst Florence's bubble.
But at this stage in the game, it sure is fun.
MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal Round Four Results:
Heat 1: Julian Wilson (AUS) 11.67, Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 8.10, Leonardo Fioravanti (ITL) 7.77
Heat 2: John John Florence (HAW) 17.00, Kolohe Andino (USA) 15.57, Connor O'Leary (AUS) 13.50
Heat 3: Kanoa Igarashi (USA) 16.83, Josh Kerr (AUS) 15.44, Frederico Morais (PRT) 13.60
Heat 4: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 14.47, Mick Fanning (AUS) 12.47, Miguel Pupo (BRA) 5.27
MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal Round Five Results:
Heat 1: Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 12.10 def. Connor O'Leary (AUS) 12.07
Heat 2: Kolohe Andino (USA) 16.53 def. Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) 10.83
Heat 3: Miguel Pupo (BRA) 15.50 def. Josh Kerr (AUS) 10.67
Heat 4: Mick Fanning (AUS) Frederico Morais (PRT)
MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal Quarterfinal Matchups:
QF 1: Julian Wilson (AUS) vs. Sebastian Zietz (HAW)
QF 2: John John Florence (HAW) vs. Kolohe Andino (USA)
QF 3: Kanoa Igarashi (USA) vs. Miguel Pupo (BRA)
QF 4: Gabriel Medina (BRA) vs. Mick Fanning (AUS)