Quiksilver Pro France

The Rise and Rise of Leo Fioravanti

Paul Evans

Nature versus nurture? Not so much. If your name's Leonardo Fioravanti the two need not necessarily be adversaries, much less mutually exclusive. From his inauspicious beginnings at a windy righthander near Rome, to today, facing the sport's greatest athlete of all time in Hossegor, much that has come between for the 19-year-old ticks both boxes.

Look Out for Leonardo

Before taking his place on the World Tour proper in 2017, if and when he's almost certain to qualify based on his current Qualifying ranking, Leo offered the surf world another premiere today at Culs Nus. Here in France, he played a show-stealing cameo role in his Round Two heat against 11-time world champion Kelly Slater.

So as Stephen ‘Belly' Bell, long time Quiksilver caddy/pit boss looked down from the surfers' area he could be forgiven for feeling more than a little conflicted. In the blue corner, step-son, protégé and star pupil versus longtime mate/former team charge/confidant Kelly Slater in red.

Leo Knocks Kelly Out Again

And while Kelly made his way along a tricky double-up left to an ungamely conclusion under the shoreline crowd's collective nostrils, he could do little but look on as Leo nabbed the following wave; a more cooperative, steeper, point-bearing affair to take the decisive blow in the encounter.

Leo, whose prodigious early talents earned him and his family relocation to the pedigree surf stables in southwest France, is something of a favorite adopted son on these shores. He humbly took in the adoration from a delighted, selfie-hungry crowd. Well-rounded beyond his years both in and out of the water with an easy persona that's part showman, occasional class clown, part serious athlete and all very bright future, his appeal crosses national boundaries and perfectly embodies the modern European dream. Speaking five languages hardly hurts, either.

Wilko Escapes Intact

"I don't have any pressure at CT events," Fioravanti enthused. "I'm not trying to requalify or win a World Title here so I just want to have fun and when I went up against Kelly [Slater] again I just want to make the most out of it.

"The more experience I get the better it is for next year if qualifying actually happens, so every heat is another 30 minutes in a World Tour rashie and I want to get as much as I can before I get my own rashie. Kelly is my idol and I'm always learning from him."

Meanwhile, a magnanimous Slater debriefed, towelled off, and fielded questions and banter with friends and family while tucking into a hearty serving of lasagna without affront. Even the catering had Italian flair today.

Toledo Revs Up, Parko Goes Down

Earlier, Leo's fellow European wildcard Joan Duru had suffered a narrow defeat against a somewhat fortunate Matt Wilkinson. And elsewhere in Round Two upsets, if not par for the course, were hardly surprising as the French sandbars went into their infamously obtuse mode.

Thus, not so much an absolute slaughter of red jerseys but a purposeful cull ensued. After just two hours of hostilities, three of the CT's top six had been eliminated, as Jordy Smith and Joel Parkinson also fell afoul of the slightly diminished swell's pedantic fare.

Callinan Gets Upset Win Over Jordy

In today's shoulder-to-a-bit-overhead-high guise, Hossegor can be even more of a riddle wrapped in mystery inside an enigma than when it's huge, freight-train tubes.

When hugging rip bowl banks perpendicular to the beach rather than laterally on outer bars, perilously deep waters are never far away from a landing lip. More often than not, the world's best found themselves banking super hard off the bottom before second guessing themselves on how much of the lip to take on. Improvisation was a must, then, not only mid-heat or mid-wave, but even mid-maneuver.

Joan Duru Puts Up a Fight

"I knew Joan [Duru] living here is probably one of the most solid guys to come up against," early season ratings leader Wilkinson observed, having kept his all-important French campaign alive. "We ended up getting two really good waves each and I'm stoked I came out on top. I'm pretty relieved, I gave him an absolute bomb at the start and to come back from that and win is satisfying."

With the forecast suggesting cleaner, peakier conditions -- if not perhaps topping the size seen earlier in the week -- when competition resumes, a host of world title race and requalification sub-plots will play out upon one of the more intriguing stages on tour.

Watch the Quik Pro France live daily starting at 8 a.m. CEST on the WSL website and app. Catch the full-day replay starting at 11 a.m. PDT.