High On Nostalgia: Remembering THAT Teahupo’o Heat Between Kelly And John John
A heat Kelly Slater called “the favorite of his career.”
While we wait for six feet of 15-second, 225-degree kinetic energy to unload on the shelf at Teahupo’o (all signs point to tomorrow), why not reacquaint ourselves with one of the best-ever heats by surfing’s best-ever talents: Kelly Slater vs. John John Florence at the Billabong Pro Tahiti, 2014.
The year was 2014.
Earlier that season, Kelly Slater, who was 43, had held the Championship Tour lead—the last time he would achieve this feat (barring some future miracle) in his unrivaled career.
Coming into Teahupo’o, Gabriel Medina was at the top of the world, having already won events at Snapper and Cloudbreak that season. No one would eventually catch him, making the 20-year-old both the second-youngest surfer and first Brazilian surfer to win an ASP World Title (the WSL was established in 2015).
The waves at Teahupo’o were fabulous in 2014—not Code Red 2011 big, but solid by any conventional standards (probably a tad bigger than we’ll see tomorrow). And on finals day, conditions were sheet glass.
The semifinals consisted of Bede Durbidge vs. Gabe Medina, Kelly Slater vs. John Florence. At the time, and perhaps still today, the surfers in the second heat were considered the best barrel-riders on earth.
Their battle did not disappoint.
In the first exchange, John threaded a no-hands, disappears-behind-the-spit tube into the channel.
Very next wave, Slater took a dangerously high line over the foamball and somehow avoided going over the handlebars, giving John a knowing smirk as he flew past into the makeshift marina.
John backed his wave up with a low-nine, and Kelly stumbled home drunk with an eight. John then found another mid-nine, which he would come to rue when Slater dropped a 9.77 in his wake.
In the final minutes, John found a smaller inside wave but rode it deep and hard. My gut said it would not be enough, due to sheer lack of size, but the judges were split. So perfectly split, in fact, that they made John tie Kelly at a total of 19.77 points, which of course gave the win to Slater on account of his 10 in the opening stanza.
The Rules forbade a surf-off. Equally infuriatingly, Medina went on to win the final, as Slater had used the last of his magic beans against the true heir to surfing’s throne.
Yesterday on the broadcast, Kelly called his heat against John the favorite heat of his career.
“It’s easy to feel like that when you win,” he laughed, casually, at Florence’s expense.
From an outsider’s perspective, I’d like to argue that this was actually the second-best heat ever. The first came in the 2013 Volcom Pipe Pro, when John Florence came back in the dying seconds to beat Jamie O’Brien after he’d already hugged JOB in gracious defeat.
But regardless of preference, the recipe for memorable competitive surfing moments is clear: pumping waves + the best tuberiders in the world = premium surf spectating.
With John out of this year’s Chopes event, we’re left to hope that Kelly and Gabriel meet in the semifinals, and that the winner then meets Owen Wright in the final.
Unless they ran straight into the Pacific garbage patch, the waves should arrive soon. Who’s gonna be a hero?
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