By Round Three’s elimination heats in the season’s penultimate event, the MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal and henceforth, every time the Jeep Leader John John Florence paddles out, the most important heat of the year unfolds before an expectant Portuguese crowd.
Today, as that crowd, perhaps one of the biggest this always well-supported event has ever witnessed, filed right across the thin strip of sand that now connects the former island of Peniche to the Portuguese mainland, the custodian of that Jeep Leaders’ yellow jersey edged a step closer to another pre-Halloween World Title crowning on the European mainland. Although a brutal display of form by Gabriel Medina in the day’s final heat served notice of where Florence’s most significant threat lies.
Aside from intermittent yet consistent pepperings by rogue bombs, the surf had dropped considerably overnight, taking some of the X-factor out of the proceedings. Today it was much more feasible to build a score, roll the dice and surf under priority, rather than live or die by the rogue vagaries of refraction… well, kinda. Winning heat totals with like 9.7 & 2.4 (Sebastian Zietz) or 7.17 & 1.5 (Josh Kerr) would beg to differ. But let’s not get bogged down in the numbers for now.
Despite the relative reduction in swell drama, the full house Sunday afternoon crowd had plenty to whip themselves into raptures over today, chief among them being the clash between Florence and local wildcard Vasco Ribeiro. Even during such clutch moments in a season and career, Florence is a tough read pre-heat, somewhere far from both the clowning of a Mason Ho and the ferocious focus of a Medina, so well-placed in the middle in fact, he’s almost emotion-neutral. Once water-borne though, his flow was ridiculously apparent. Nudging his scoreline back up toward this year’s excellent-range modal average, his loose- shouldered ease couldn’t have contrasted more starkly with the limb leverage approach of Ribeiro. A potent mix of wave selection, technique — but probably mainly juju — saw him advance via smart tubes in both directions.