Down goes the crown! All photos: WSL
World Numbers One And Two Defeated At Keramas
John and Italo, out!
I flipped my computer open just in time to catch John Florence vs. Joan Duru.
It was the third heat of Round 3, now the Round of 32, and the waves looked exceptionally fun. Still not proper Keramas, but enough to get scored on a tube. Just ask Julian Wilson, Jeremy Flores, and of course Kelly Slater, all of whom rode vision to victory.
A barrel also sealed John John’s fate against the wily Joan Duru. You won’t find it in any scoreline or highlight reel, but rest assured that an unmade tunnel sent our World Number one packing.
Joan looked strong from the start, slicing deep through the water on his backhand and accelerating through turns. He showed a point of difference on his backhand that few had throughout the event.
Meanwhile John looked as strong as ever, but his muscly approach was hindered by the patchy walls, which would push back in spots but retreat in others. Several of John's turns looked forced or off-balance while others were wholly incomplete. John managed to stick one gravity-defying nosepick that, relative to his competitor, really could have been scored higher.
Joan’s surfing was classically impressive, but it came nowhere near the difficulty or progression of that single maneuver.
Needing a low-six with 10 minutes on the clock, Joan took a shouldery right and banged it twice before kicking out—definitely not the score. As he made his way back to the lineup, a steeper wall approached our World Number one, who had a decision to make: try to increase my scoreline (and block Joan, who was two-thirds of the way back out and looked interested in the wave) or retain priority in case a true six presented itself?
Surfing’s a tough game. Split-second decisions determine the most important moments, and this time John chose wrong.
Sliding into a fluttery frontside tube, John sat deep to maximize his score but was clipped by a chandelier. Where Joan had been positioned when the wave came through, it’s unlikely he could have swung this set for a six, meaning John’s decision was a mistake. And for it he would pay.
Now with control of the lineup, Joan could catch any wave he pleased in the remaining 10 minutes. Around the halfway mark, a tall, blue wall approached. It was an easy decision for Joan, who jammed a vertical turn on the first section before laying it straight onto the rail, then finishing with a couple off-balance swings.
The score was borderline, but the judges gave it to Frenchy. Another wave never came.
There is a lesson here for John. Namely, don’t take a wave you don’t need. Even if it has a tube.
In his post-heat interview, John seemed characteristically indifferent about the loss until Rosy mentioned West Oz. “It's sooo sick we’re going to Margaret’s, especially after all that stuff that happened last year,” John said, referencing the multiple shark-related incidents that forced the WSL to postpone and eventually move the 2018 event. It dawned on me that Florence is one of very few surfers who would genuinely excited to go to Margs—probably because no one can match his skill set in big, wally surf.
Let’s see if he can’t bounce back over there.
Wade Carmichael and Deivid Silva surfed a ripper of a heat—probably the best of the day, despite the flurry of fives in their scoreline. It was a classic duel of forehand power versus backhand agility, both surfers looking sharp as ever at the tour’s most tearable venue. I won’t give you a blow-by-blow, as the similar nature of their rides make it all blend together, but the part worth noting was Silva’s last wave, on which he required a 5.97.
Deiv jammed a speed snap on the first section, drove around the whitewash into a slighty-late hook, delivered a straight slash on the next section into a clean backfoot extension on the last.
I said yes, the judges said nahhh and that was that.
What’s to be taken from this? The score gods prefer power over agility. Also, maneuvers on the first two sections have significantly more weight than those performed on the inside. Take notes and apply, lads.
With John Florence out early, World Number two Italo Ferreira would have been eager to stack serious points at Keramas—an event he won in 2018. The ocean had other plans.
Italo’s competitor and recent winner of Red Bull Airborne, Jack Freestone, stuck an effortless oop on his first attempt. He caught a second wave before Italo could blink and stomped another punt, this one rotating toward the beach. Safe to say Jack's air confidence is high at the moment.
Italo caught his first wave about halfway through the heat and fell. Then he fell again. The brace on Ferreira's right ankle was like a lead weight, slowing him down and putting him severely off-balance.
Then, needing a seven with just a few minutes to go, Italo lost priority by paddling for and completely missing a wave.
That was the heat. World Numbers one and two had successfully been defeated.
Jeremy Flores got a buzzer-beater against Willian Cardoso and rode to the beach with a devilish smirk. Griffin Colapinto and Conner Coffin should have been a neat matchup, but the waves never came.
Today the commentators, Luke Egan especially, kept complaining about the new scale, how scores have become too low and too close together. “When everything is stuck in the 5-7 range,” Luke said, “it’s really hard to decide a winner.”
Except it’s not. At the end of the day, all the judges have to do is pick the best surfer from each heat. Did they do that every time? No, but that's a human issue, not one of the scale.
One might be interested in the surfers’ take on this shift. Rosy Hodge asked Kolohe Andino about the ‘new scale’ after his heat, which included two sevens and the day’s highest heat total.
“How’d you feel about the scoring?” Rosy asked. “It seems like sevens are the new nines.”
“I like the new scale. I’ve always thought they should leave more room at the top of the scale, because what if somebody gets a standup barrel and then lands one of my airs?”
Question: how do you win a heat when your opponent is better at every facet of contest surfing, from technical ability to competitive strategy? That’s the problem Caio Ibelli faced when he met Filipe Toledo at head-high Keramas. It went about how you’d expect.
Filipe caught tons of waves, went for super explosive maneuvers, landed some but not others. Caio tried to keep up with tailslides and airs but mostly failed.
Filipe banged an 8.33 for the best wave of the day, officially comboing Caio. He then made a great decision toward the end of the heat, electing to pass up a great-looking wave while his competitor was on the inside, simply because he didn’t need it to win. It must have been tough for the little sparkplug to pass that wave up, but Filipe knew he was better off holding priority than bettering his total. John John could learn something there.
With just a couple minutes remaining, Caio reached the ‘fuck it’ point and threw a superman into a searing layback, netting the second-best wave of the heat. Sadly, it was too little too late.
While Ryan Callinan dissected the rookie Seth Moniz, we saw Slater make his way down to the beach, leash wrapped snugly around his tail and affixed to his fin by velcro.
So, it’s official: Kelly Slater is old. Forty-seven years and he finally reached the leggie-wrapping stage of his career. Ain’t it a sad but beautiful progression?
Perhaps sensing my ageist remarks, Slater put on a youthful display in the water, catching a thousand waves and surfing with excitement and elasticity. He got a hot little tube on one for a six then threw a patented Slater slash on another to back it up.
“There have been statues made of that turn,” remarked Ronnie Blakey.
Slater made quick work of his once-nemesis Owen Wright, whose boards simply didn’t fit in Keramas’ tight transitions.
Michel did a double-grab to beat the wildcard and that was it.
We’re back on soon!