Must Watch: Jack Robinson Wins Paddle Battle Of The Year Against Leo Fioravanti - Stab Mag

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Cue Rocky Balboa training montage. Frame: WSL

Must Watch: Jack Robinson Wins Paddle Battle Of The Year Against Leo Fioravanti

How did Robbo close this 15-foot gap?

elsewhere // Jul 18, 2023
Words by Christian Bowcutt
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Read our full day-3 comp report here.

There were 18 minutes left in SITD test pilot Jack Robinson and Leo Fioravanti’s Round of 16 heat at J-Bay today…

Something dramatic (finally) happened. Please allow us to set the scene.

Leo needs a 6.02 to advance.

This is an easily attainable score for him — given the consistent conditions and way that Leo has been surfing lately.

But then, Jack gets a wave, stitches together some respectable turns, stomps the final bash, fist pumps right in front of Leo, and scores a 7.33. Now Leo needs a 8.23.

Leo doesn’t have time to feel his Apple Watch buzz and get this update though. Jack is right on top of him.

How it started. Frame: WSL

They look at each other in the eyes for a second, two 25-year-old men in their physical primes with a long history of competing against each other — they were 2/3 parts of Quiksilver’s boy genius trio in the early 2010s. Side note: part 3 (Kanoa) was also in the water at the time in the overlapping heat watching this go down.

They decide to engage in a duel. Here, at the bottom of one of Earth’s longest pointbreaks, the two men settle into a four-minute marathon. Not a paddle battle, but a paddle war.

With a frothy wave in-bound, the boys are forced to make a split-second decision. Leo duckdives and Jack paddles over the same wave. Leo’s duckdive gives him a 10-foot lead somehow. It appears, for a second, that Jack relinquishes the paddle battle for priority — he’s too far behind. Pete Mel and Joe Turpel are still engaged in the race, but it seems like Leo’s winning is a foregone conclusion.

Leo with a monumental lead. Frame: WSL

But, miraculously, Jack starts closing the now-15-foot gap. Slowly and steadily, with a uniform, chugging pace, Jack is 10 feet behind, then seven, then five, then 3 — now he’s nipping at Leo’s heels.

How is this happening?

Pete Mel, who knows the value of oxygen given his decorated career as a big-wave surfer, mentioned that Jack has been putting an extra emphasis on breath work. He hypothesizes that the moment earlier where we thought Jack had given up, the Australian was actually taking a moment to fill up his oxygen tank, plotting a full sprint at the first sign of Leo losing steam.

Sun Tzu would be proud.

Then, when the time is right, Jack attacks. He clicks into a different realm of paddle power and slowly and steadily — as if channeling Aesop’s tortoise — creates a gap between himself and Leo.

He keeps at it, unrelenting. And after a while it’s sealed — Robbo wins the paddle war and takes priority.

Imagine what’s going on in Leo’s head in this moment. Frame: WSL

Leo didn’t give up though, he still managed to score a 7.77 in the dying minutes of the heat. But after the battle, it seemed like Jack’s win was cut in stone. The psychological work had been done.

Jack caught a victory wave in, hugged his wife, and settled in for a post-heat interview.

Don’t slumber on Leo, though. The man trains like crazy and will be looking for revenge at Teahupo’o.

Read our full day-3 comp report here.

How it ended. Photo by Beatriz Ryder/World Surf League

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