This is a decisive week for next year's Championship Tour hopefuls. Anyone trying to qualify for next year's elite tour class is in Galicia Spain for the Pantin Classic, a pivotal QS6000 event. This is essentially turn three of the Qualifying Series (QS) race in 2016, and Italian Leonardo Fioravanti is still in control of the QS rankings, with a 1300 point lead over Australian upstart, Ethan Ewing.
For Fioravanti, the European leg is home. He's from Italy but has been living in France for much of his rise. The charismatic 18-year-old speaks several languages, so he's in his element. He's been enjoying an incredible run in 2016, with solid results at the QS and CT levels. We caught up with Leo to find out some of the secrets of his success this year, and his outlook on the near future.
WSL: What sort of training do you do on a day-to-day basis to keep in top form?
Leo: On the road I have a couple of training routines but I mostly just surf a lot and stretch. When there are flat days I try to get a little training session in to stay active. It's a different story when I go back to Hossegor, though. I try to make the most of my time there by training and working with my physiotherapist.
WSL: Tell us about your support crew.
Leo: I have been working with Jake Paterson since I was about 12. I love the way we work together and he's one of the very few people I trust on anything. Another person I trust the most is Stephen Bell. He has always been there for me no matter what, and if I have any doubt on anything I ask him and the rest of my family.
WSL: What have you learned that it's made a big difference?
Leo: Both Jake and Belly have taught me so many things that have made me who I am today. Jake made me the competitor. On the other side I wouldn't be anywhere without Belly. He has brought me all the way through Quiksilver and the whole team since I was 12, and that's when I learned the most.
WSL: Do you think if you can continue this pace and join the CT it's going to change your life in a big way?
Leo: Qualifying has always been one of my biggest goals since I was very little. Being able to surf the best waves in the world against the best surfers in the world is a dream come true. I am working very hard for it and I won't stop until I get there. So yes, it would change my life in a big way.
WSL: Do you think a Championship Tour without Slater will be any different than what you're expecting?
Leo: Kelly has done so much for our sport. Every generation, he has taken it to the next level. I am lucky and privileged enough to have had a heat with him at Margarets, but I really hope that he stays for longer. I would love to be able to have a year on tour with him. He is one of my biggest inspirations and to be able to tell my kids in 20 years that I had a year on tour with Kelly Slater would mean the world.
To be able to tell my kids in 20 years that I had a year on tour with Kelly Slater would mean the world.
WSL: What is the best thing about your career right now?
Leo: The biggest thing about surfing is the level of surfing on the World Tour. The second biggest thing is Kelly's wave pool.
WSL: If you could make one change to the way contests are run, what would it be?
Leo: I would have 11 events, but instead of having a set schedule on every event I would look at swells around the world and wherever is the best place on tour during that week, everybody goes there and surfs the best waves on offer at that certain location. Simple solution.
WSL: How do you feel in big waves like Hawaii? Are you amped to charge, or do you feel that you need more experience in bigger waves?
Leo: I love spending time in Hawaii. I usually spend at least two months on the North Shore. This year I got out to Waimea a few times and one special day out on Outer Reef, which was huge! I was super scared but went out with my friend Zeke (Ezekiel) Lau and caught a few waves without falling off.
WSL: Well done. So can you imagine yourself being on the Championship Tour in 2017?
Leo: It's not a sure thing yet, but that is my goal this year and I'm going to do everything possible to make it happen.