"The pack is so much tighter, if you make one mistake, or don't cover one maneuver, guys now will just turn on you," Mick Fanning said after his Round One win yesterday in the Oi Rio Pro. "A perfect example was John John taking off on a closeout at Bells and doing a huge alley-oop. That's the arsenal these new guys have and it means they aren't scared of anyone."
Fanning's premise was tested and proven again on Wednesday by Brazilian Yago Dora. He'd actually had a fair crack at it yesterday when he scored Round One's highest individual wave score in pushing John John Florence to the wire. Today he went one better, defeating World No. 4 Kolohe Andino with his mix of aerial pyrotechnics and heat composure. He used the former to log a 9.10 for his first scoring wave, then the latter to achieve the small score he needed, without priority, with two minutes to go in the heat.
"The level of surfing is getting crazier every year and everyone on Tour has the potential to be a World Champion," Dora said after his win. "Everyone's doing good. It's not just the same five guys, it's getting tighter and tighter."
In fact, Dora might be the poster boy for the Quantum Leap theory. He first became known for his freesurfing ability on the back of a constant feed of dynamite edits dropped on the net. He then did serious time surfing quality waves in Indonesia and Hawaii, before switching his focus to the competitive realm.
Prior to winning the trials to earn the wildcard spot for this event, he had risen to number three on the Qualifying Series (QS), after cracking the top 50 in 2016. It is the mix of aerial arsenal and QS-honed competitive toughness that allowed the 20-year-old to surf in his first-ever CT -- and look capable of taking on anyone that comes his way.
He's also not alone, even if he is one of the leading lights of the Quantum Gang. The pack is getting tighter. The competition is getting harder. As Fanning said, "It's unbelievable and amazing, but mostly it's just incredible to watch."