Rio Wrap-Up

Shea Lopez on John Florence's first World Tour victory

| posted on May 16, 2012

With each event, John Florence continues to prove that he's lethal in every condition. Photo: ASP/Dunbar

You had to see this coming. First there was the tweet from Kelly congratulating John on his first World Tour win months before it actually happened. Then there was John’s string of incredible performances over the last year that saw him win heats, win events, and ride waves to near perfection. It was clear that it would only be a matter of time before John took to the podium on surfing’s biggest stage.

John’s strength comes from the heightened level of competitive and freesurfing that he started to reach two winters ago. That’s when the North Shore watched him drawing lines and looking at waves like only a few before him ever had. The topper: his ability to stay on that same line while completing every air variation imaginable with frightening consistency. The four-turns-on-a-wave routine of yesterday has evolved into a fin-ditch followed by a carving turn, then gaining speed for a big air and closing with a quick reverse off the whitewash for good measure—a far cry from the old “three to the beach” ethos.

With performances like that from the new generation, watching their heats on the World Tour is as good as any surf clips on the Internet. If Julian Wilson is in a heat, you know he’s going to put a number of highlights together and possibly do something you’ve never seen before. When John and Julian surfed in the no losers round, Julian came out with a lightning quick three-move backside combo that was the most technically difficult and precise ride I can remember in a heat. John came back from being in a combo with a few solid rides of his own to take the win and jump straight to the quarters. Julian won the next round, bringing the two best surfers of the event back together for a quarterfinal match-up. This time the roles were reversed, with John coming out firing. Julian never came back, and John rolled over the rest of the field, winning the Rio event with ease—as he should in waves that were nearly a mirror image of a fun day behind his house at Ehukai.

Looking at the rest of the schedule, I see a few things coming together—and, surely, so does Slater. There should be one hell of a title race between at least five contenders. Rio unfolded as perfectly as you could ask for if you like close title races, with Parko and Taj just escaping early round losses to stay in the mix and keep things interesting. But above all, one person is going to be an enormous threat when the title race comes to Pipeline in December. Slater has had his attention on this person for a while now, as he is the first challenger since A.I. that Kelly should be scared of. His name is John Florence, and he’s a bad man. John can win Fiji, Tahiti, and Pipe and nobody would blink an eye. Lowers, France, and Portugal are also potential victories for a surfer who can read a tube, draw a clean line through nearly any combo, and stay comfortably in the zone. Slater better have a few tricks left up his wizard sleeve if he is going to outpace the top three all-around performers: John Florence, Julian Wilson, and Josh Kerr. Kelly also has to keep an eye on the spot-specific result producers: Owen Wright, Michel Bourez, Jeremy Flores, Kolohe Andino, Ace Buchan, the Hobgoods, and Gabriel Medina. And finally, he can never count out the perennial contenders: Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, Taj Burrow, Adriano de Souza, and Jordy Smith.

  • Fishboard Twin

    Shea i think it’s funny you include Kolohe Andino in all your writings. The boy never won anything relevant. Six star events (not Primes) in waves below the knee count for something? Moreover, if he is not careful, will end up not qualifying for next year. Please tell him to justify the hype is necessary to win a few heats!

  • Fernando

    I live in Rio and all these years it has been frustanting that a WCT had never met the real powerful beachbreak waves we have.

    Congratulations to Billabong for the intelligent decision of moving the contest to Postinho where it was finally possible to show our hollow, powerful waves.

    By the way, Olimpics will happen in Rio in a few years.Shall we have surfing in it?

  • Marcelo

    Apart the Kalohe thing, This is another great article from Shea, what a writer this guy is turning to be. Congrats once more.

  • Jim Dandelion

    Is Gabriel Medina really only a “spot-specific” contender? Seems like low-balling to me.

  • E

    Really enjoy Shea’s articles and I agree that Kolohe is gonna need some results to back up the hype but he will get there. In Shea’s defense he said spot specific performers when talking about Kolohe. He kills it at Lowers. Nowhere is more spot specific than that for him.

  • Eric

    Kolohe is 17, give him time to mature

  • stu

    have to agree with the continuous Chloe inclusions by Shea. Kid hasn’t won anything anywhere against top competition. All the 6* comps he won last year were against non-CT talent. He may be able to pull a rabbit out of his hat at Trestles this year, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

  • Ricardo

    Well done Shea. Good article. Now, to call Medina a spot specific is putting the rookie performances out of context. His age is between John John and Kolohe and he has won 2 of 7 WCT events that he has entered. That is more than Kolohe and John John combined. Add to that his dominant performance in Trestles last month and his 5th place debut in the biggest Pipe of the last 20 years. What spot specific is he? He won in France, Ocean Beach and Trestles? Sounds like low balling to me.

  • Helder

    I´ve been monitoring asp events since 1984 Coca Cola surfabout in Manly Beach Australia. A lot of contenders have pass since and only the best and consistent flourish. So reading shea´s analysis i have to say that John is the only surfer that can do some damage to slater in the next few events, but wait and see because medina had some hype to brasil and he end prematurely eliminated, the same can happen to John.

  • Bushy

    This kid has it all and will be near the top at the end of the year. If Slater does win another title this year or whenever, could you say he has surfed and won against 5 era’s of surfers – Carroll/Curren/Occy, Beschen/Machado, Irons/Parko/Fanning, Jordy/Dane and now JJ/Kolohe/Wilson/Medina?
    Crazy to think also that he “retired” before the new millenium even started.

  • Romulo

    As the article drifts to the who can beat Slater, I wonder why the article also puts Medina as a “spot specific” talent. As far as I know only one surfer has a favorable record on direct confrontations with Kelly. That surfer is Medina! So, when all seems to be wondering about the future and making their “expert” predicions, Medina seems to be the reality as beating Slater goes. Owen gets close but not there yet. Ah and Medina is not just beating Kelly but putting him in “combination”. And not just him. Ask Dane, Adrian, Taylor and so on….

  • Ben

    Pretty good, Shea. For once he acknowledged that Slater sitting out an event could still easily mow over the rest of the field. I don’t see JJF as the primary contender when the smoke clears, though I’m loving his surfing and believe that he has the ability to go all the way.

  • Londoncalling

    I definitely like Shea’s articles very much. Keep up the good work mate. I just don’t agree with Kolohe being a contender. He lacks of power in my opinion.

  • Earclops

    Well written article Shea!

  • Jack-O

    Shea, i agree with the comment about K-Lo…. it’s funny that you include him in all your writings. K-Lo is just heavily sponsored… no style, no flow, no power and can’t ride big waves.

  • Hemi

    Completely agree. It’s great that surfing is finally getting the kind of balanced and probing coverage of other sports.

  • Whamo

    Nobody has a better grasp of Pro Surfing than Shea Lopez. His articles are always worth a read.

  • mark


    just a heads up mending is totally spot specific. his wins are at san fan, trestles and france all beach breaks that didn’t barrel, they all had air sections and nothing else… do some research

  • Danny

    just a heads up mending is totally spot specific…In he’s first Pipe MAsters in huge waves he got fifth beating guys like Shane Dorian. He defeated Parko in SF with no airs, in he’s backside…do some research

  • Bob

    So, is Kolohe a contender and is he a “spot-specific” contender? Well, he’s probably not considered a favorite at Teahupoo or Pipe. But he’s so damn good that he has to be considered a contender in any waves that lend themselves to hot-dogging. Personally, I hope he fails because I root against any Nike-sponsored surfer. Sorry, but I did use the term, “hot-dogging” so do the math. But I’ve surfed with Kolohe and it was pretty obvious that the guy has the ability to be one of the world’s best. He hasn’t come out blazing in his first couple events on the big stage, but neither did A.I. or lots of others who went on to succeed.

  • dan

    its easy to be annoyed with kolohe, or the attention he gets, but he is 17. at 17 i wasn’t as mellow as he is. i started surfing at 6 years old in 1983, and nike has actually been involved in action sports historically, its not that new, but bob, even if they were new, if they told you they would pay you hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to put a logo on the side of you car and wear their shirts because they think it will help their business, i am certain you would stay core and say no thanks. personally, i would take all of his sponsors money any day and my family would love me for it.

  • Bob

    Yeah Dan, you’d take Nike’s money because it would benefit you. I’m sure if Nike offered me millions I’d take it too. Because it would benefit me. Not because it would benefit mankind or the earth or the surfing community. Because it would benefit me. I think it’s euphemistically called “enlightened self-interest.” But the fact that Nike is entering the surfing industry and buying up the most promising young pros in order to market surfing to the masses does not benefit me. In fact, I would argue that it harms me in the form of more surfers in the already-overcrowded lineups and fewer lineups that aren’t overcrowded. You can argue that coveting and clinging to uncrowded waves is old-fashioned and selfish, but there’s a reason all the surf resorts and tour companies brag about “uncrowded waves” and “empty perfection.” It’s because nobody likes crowds, and surfers will go to great lengths to avoid them. So until Nike offers me the big bucks, my enlightened self-interest will keep me anti-swoosh.