One year after the mind-blowing heat between Kelly Slater (USA) and John John Florence (HAW), some of surfing's icons -- including World Surf League officials -- broke down the wave, the danger, and the heat that defied reason for Uproxx's Steve Bramucci.
"It was everyone's dream matchup -- surfing's most iconic champion versus the living embodiment of the sport's new era," Bramucci wrote. Some excerpts from his interviews:
Slater: I surfed Teahupo'o in '93 for the first time. I had heard rumors about it before that - only that it was this really gnarly wave that you couldn't surf over a certain size. It was still unknown back then. No one was taking boats out to it, you'd paddle off the beach to get out there. It was just regarded as a very dangerous, obscure wave.
Sean Doherty, Surf Writer: In '97 they held a qualifying event there but it was only three or four-foot and wasn't really showing anything. The following year, they hit a 12-foot swell with some west in it. There was no webcast, it was all pretty jurassic at that stage, but the first photos came back and it was like looking at something from another planet. You couldn't actually fathom that waves like that existed. It was just really ugly and running over itself. People saw it and lost their minds.
The Competitors: Kelly Slater
Ross Williams, former Championship Tour surfer, WSL Commentator: He's always been extremely competitive, to the point where he rubs some people the wrong way. I don't know Kelly as a cocky guy - definitely not arrogant - but competitive. It's just in his bones, I guess. He'll always come up with something to beat you at.
He's extremely driven and he'll never be the guy who says, "Ah. You know what? I should just let you win one." Whatever he was going to do in life, maybe if he was going to be a professor, because he's very smart, he probably would have looked at all the professors, and found out a way to be the best one, somehow, or got the most awards, or... [laughs].
The Competitors: John John Florence
Slater: I don't remember the first time I met John. I know he was about seven or so. I've been surfing with him on the North Shore ever since and seeing him progress. We've been friends for a lot longer than we've been competitors. Beyond just the surfing, we have a lot of very close personal friends in common, so our lives are intertwined.
Renato Hickel, Deputy Tour Commissioner: My thinking is that John is a natural-born-killer in big barrels. He learned how to surf in that type of wave, at Pipe. He surfs waves like Pipe and Teahupo'o the way most surfers surf two-foot waves.
The Dream Heat
Doherty: They're just sitting there waiting... . The reaction when it got read out, John couldn't actually fathom. He goes, "Oh, it's a tie? What does that mean?" Of course Kelly knew, because Kelly lies awake at night reading the rules [laughs]. He knew exactly what was going on. ...
There was no fist-pumping, no claiming. They probably surfed the greatest heat that's ever been surfed and they're just there, "Oh, okay," shake hands and paddle away. It's just a whole lack of hyperbole and bluster. It was magic, because it actually...was a perfectly reflective moment of how surfing should be: An inherent modesty. It was a classic little moment.