It’s Finals Day At Chopes: John John And Gabriel Medina Just Had The Heat Of The Year
Stab’s rolling blog from Tahiti, watch this space; it’s growing faster than garden weeds!
It’s finals day. It’s hollow, clean and slides into that category of Tahitian reverie. It’s the Chopes we want to surf, still dangerous – that reef’s no joke – but already we’ve seen nines and tens. And, these squared up, head high plus, oil-slick heavers will produce the most exciting surf we’ll see all event. Most importantly, right now, it’s consistent.
And, how nice is it when they run straight through? There’s been no weeklong waits, no forgetting the event’s on. Peter King’s had no time for another #Tournotes (but surely there’ll be one soon), and, as they say, when “It’s on, it’s on!”
Heat two came down to the title contenders: John and Gabs. And it was an absolute cooker, a 21-gun shoot out. Both gents were fading as deep as possible and pumping airs over the shallow reef with no regard for safety. But, neither of these guys fall… all that often. The confidence level between the young Brazilian and Hawaiian is at its pinnacle. Ten minutes into the heat, John already has two nines, and Gabs has an eight and a nine with ten waves caught between the two, and that was with 20 minutes left. It was a battle for the final, the boys are out for blood. At the 11 minutes mark, Gabs grabs a perfect ten and John follows it up with a 9.93. Medina’s was bigger, but John slid in later, grabbed his rail and the technicality of the slide was unfathomable. It was a wave that only John and maybe Kelly would pull off. The heat is the best show of the year, bar none. At the seven minute mark, John needs a 9.31. He finds a smaller one, drops into a spot that most people would lose their face to the reef. He came out and claimed it. Yes, John claimed it and was rewarded with a 9.73. With two minutes left Gabs needed a 9.66. The surf went flat, and John and Kelly will go head-to-head in the final.
The wind came up a bit for Kelly and Ace, in heat one. But, Kelly has an uncanny ability of magnetising the best waves of the day. He racked up deep tubes and finished them off with spinning fly aways and wrapping carves. Mr Slater’s first wave has another high nine. Ace answered back with a glistening 8.17 and a 7.8. But, vs the King, excellence is required. Kelly’s backup score at the two minute mark was a 6.67. Naturally he disposed of it. He faded into one behind the curtain, came out, wiped off speed and topped it off with one of the day’s best carves for an 8.77. Ace had a hell of a showing, but Kelly is will either face John or Gabs in his first final of the year.
Heat one was long time CT competitor, Ace Buchan vs Kolohe Andino. Ace has won out here before, and his knowledge of the break shines. Kolohe surfed well, as he has this whole event, but not well enough to cap Ace’s two scores in the excellent range. Brother came out with a solid backside attempt, he tucked in behind the foam ball and squeaked out for an 8.07. Ace was selective, and while Mr Andino found six waves and dropped a heat total of 16, Ace only took three, one being a 9.33. It was Kolohe’s best finish at Chopes. “I was pretty stoked to make to Quarters,” said Kolohe. “I would rather win the event, but it’s always gonna be a tough draw. I got three past champions on my side of the draw, so it was good to be in the mix with those guys.”
Kelly Slater and previous Tahiti champ Bruno Santos illuminated heat three. The King was just short of doubling up on perfection, a throwback to Owen Wright in Fiji last year (almost). The waves are on at Chopes, and it’s child’s play for Mr Slater. Bruno surfed top-notch, but he wasn’t going to beat another perfect ten followed by a 9.27 from Kelly. The heat closed with KS 19.27, Bruno 17.43.
Gabby and Kerrzy: Welcome to heat three. Gabs stayed busy, he caught 11 waves, took off deep, and surfed smart. His father Charlie was harping at him from the channel. “My Dad helps me a lot,” said Gabs after his win over Josh–who was riding a buckled board in the back half of the heat. When asked Kerr responded with a smile, “It just gives me extra incentive not to fall.” With two high eight point rides, and some post wave theatrics featuring big aerial kick outs and a backflip, Gabs stole the show. In the quarters thus far, if you’re not putting up at least two eights; it’s over. Gabs won with the lowest heat total, a 17.9. He’s onto the semis, and the fight for the yellow jersey post-Tahiti continues between Gabs and John.
From the get-go, it looked as if Jules has no shot against John in the quarters. John wanted it, and at the ten-minute mark, Jules was combo’d with only one wave; which threw him onto the reef, and split open his chin for a painful 1.8. John, on the other hand, is looking lethal as ever, tallying an early eight, then another tunnel to a loft backside air over the shallow reef. But Mr Wilson in left-hand barrels is deadly. The former Pipe Master’s a tough competitor. But, by the final minutes, we’d written him off and assumed JJF would be in the semis. Then Julian found a rabbit in the deepest reaches of Tahiti’s hat. He snagged a perfect ten; it was the best wave of the day. In the final minute, Julian was in the lead; John needed an 8.7. Another bomb came through, John sat in the pocket, let the foam ball surpass him and pumped his way out with the fire hose. The buzzer sounded; the suspense radiated. And John won with a 9.17. John will face Gabs in the semis.
“I knew he got a good score,” said John. “My wave came, I went and kicked out and heard he got a ten. I was trying to the math in my head, but that was my best wave. I’m glad I got the score.” But, Jules takes the honour of the best barrel of the day. “That should’ve been a twelve,” said Ross Williams.
Round five set off with Ace Buchan vs Jordy Smith. Jordy started with a decent five point ride. It was a quick barrel and enough to get the exchange going and the excitement brewing. Ace followed up with a textbook tunnel, deep, clean, untouched and came up pointing his fingers in celebration. Jordy had a couple of throw aways, then late in the heat found himself another fresh tube for a seven, capping it off with a powerful backhand wrap, releasing his fins on the rebound. Seconds later, Ace one-upped the South African, going deeper than Jordy, giving it two hard pumps on his forehand as the wave caved in front of him, he saw the foam ball and jammed through it no worries, disappearing for a good moment and flew out with the spit. The judges chucked him a 9.1 and left Jordy searching a for a near perfect score. Ace is in the quarters.
Poor Keanu Asing was up against King Kelly, and for a moment he was feeling rather frisky. Early in the round, he snagged a solid tube ride off the West bowl for an 8.33. He came out flexing, like a Coner Mcgregor bleeding from his face after smashing Nate Diaz’s blood-soaked mug in the Octagon. Kelly just laughed, it was silly, the King is the man at Chopes and with conditions like today, it looks like John John Florence, Gabby Medina and Mr Slater will be the ones to watch. Does that surprise you? No, of course not. Kelly saw Mr Asing’s eight, that he backed up with a decent 6.37. So, Mr Slater surfed a perfect heat; the third of his career, second at Teahupoo.
“The second one was bigger, more classic blowing out tube,” said Kelly. “The first one was a lot more difficult and I didn’t know if they’d throw the second one a ten. I’ve been feeling good all week. It’s a shoot out from here…from here on out I’m treating every heat like a final.”
And Keanu’s biceps hung by his sides, depleted with his ego. Maybe they’ll roll around on the mat later for a rematch in Keanu’s cage. Although Kelly’s can hold his own when it comes to man-on-man, physical confrontation.
Gabriel Medina doesn’t fall. He’s a competitive robot, with a clean shaved chest. Jadson Andre surfed a solid heat vs his fellow Brazilian, but it’s hard to match up to Gabs at Chopes. Mr Medina pulled into a smaller tunnel, didn’t look like he was going to make it, he came out with his back in the face of the wave; his feet were firmly planted to his blade and somehow, he had to core strength to bring himself back upright. Jaddy had a few decent rides, but Gabs took the heat 15.43 to 14.33
John John Florence has taken the Yellow Jersey from Matty Wilko! Vs Joel Parko it was a fast-paced wave for wave battle. John started the heat with a beautifully ridden 8.97. Joel backed it up with a decent 6.83 then capped it off with a textbook Chopes tunnel for a 9.07, he got spit of the guts, with his mouth wide open and looked back into the tube. After a few throwaways from Mr Florence, he was searching for a bit under a seven for the yellow singlet. And in double John fashion, the kid found the biggest and deepest tube of the heat, eliminating Parko and taking the title of the new Jeep Leader.
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