For Leonardo Fioravanti, qualifying came easy the first time around. Halfway through his first year on the Qualifying Series, he'd already locked up a spot on the CT at only 18-years old.
The CT was a different story.
Fioravanti spent the first half of his first year as a CT competitor getting knocked out in the first and second round. It was a wake up call for a budding star who had, to that point in his career, made it all look so easy. While he did find his feet towards the end of his first year on Tour, it wasn't enough, and at the end of his rookie year he was on the wrong side of the cut. Back to the QS he went.
Now, just over a year later, on the strength of a strong finish at the two hardest events on the QS - Haleiwa and Sunset - Fioravanti is back on the CT. And this time, he plans on sticking around.
The World Surf League: Having qualified before, did it make the prospect of grinding through the QS again any less daunting?
Leo Fioravanti: When I qualified in 2016 - I wouldn't say it was easy - but halfway through the year I qualified. Then, in 2017, I was on the CT and also did some QS events, but I didn't manage to qualify through either Tour.
This year, going into it, I was thinking, 'OK, I have a full year to focus on one Tour, it's gonna be easy'. Halfway through the year I was having so much fun, chasing swells, working on my surfing with my new coach, Dog [Marsh], and I didn't really focus the way I needed to on the events. At that point I had one good result, from winning the QS in Martinique, but I wasn't in a great position.
Right before the Prime in Portugal, I really focused in on getting a result there, so that I could have a chance in Hawaii. And that's what I did. I got a fifth in Portugal and was right outside the cut. So I was really excited heading into Hawaii. My whole goal was to qualify, and to get some big scores at Haleiwa and Sunset. I had a couple big heats against Italo [Ferreira] and Jordy [Smith], and it felt good to beat those guys again. I ended up getting a Semi at Haleiwa and a Quarter at Sunset, and that was enough.
Talk us through the heat you had to have to make the Tour at Sunset.
Yeah, it was an exciting one. It was myself, Kanoa [Igarashi], Jack Robinson, and Reef Heazlewood. A full grom heat [laughs]. Even though we are all really good friends, there was so much competition there, especially between Kanoa, Jack and myself.
I knew it was a tough heat. I knew if it was at Huntington, Kanoa would be the favorite. But at Sunset, I feel like that wave really suits my surfing, so I was feeling confident. It ended up that Jack won and I got second. Kanoa was so pissed [laughs]. I've never seen him that pissed in my life.
He's one of your best friends! Wasn't he stoked you'd be joining him again on Tour?
[laughs]. Yeah, he was. But we're both so competitive. He won the US Open, was first on the QS, Top 10 in the world…I was like, leave it alone! [laughs]. But it's cool. He's always pushed me more than anyone. It felt good to beat him - it was a fitting way to qualify.
How did that moment feel compared to the first time you qualified?
Well, at that point, I was at 18,000 points, which I thought was enough, but there was still finals day, so I wasn't sure, and didn't want to count on it. The next day I was first heat in the morning. It was 10- to-15 foot Sunset, maxing. Basically just you versus the ocean. Griffin [Colapinto] won and I got second, and I came in feeling a lot of relief, like 'alright, I'm back on tour for sure now'. That was an exciting moment. I always knew I could get back on, but I still had my doubts, you know? But at that point I'd done it twice and it really felt like I deserved to be there.
What will you do different this time around?
The first six months I'm really going to focus on the CT. I'll still do a few QS events, but I want to focus on one tour, and not chase everything, like I did the first time. Halfway through the year I'll revisit my plan, and reevaluate what events to do. Whereas in 2017 I was doing both tours, and I had so much going on in my mind, it was tough. I grew up winning a lot and qualified in my first full year on the QS, and then I got smoked on the CT for the first five events. It was quite tough. But the CT is tough. Everyone is so good.
When did you start working with Dog?
At the beginning of last year. After falling off Tour in 2017 I just wanted to switch things up. The time I had with Snake [Jake Paterson] was incredible, I learned so much from him. But I wanted to try something different. I feel like we made some big improvements in my surfing.
What are you most looking forward to about being back on Tour?
I just feel a lot more ready - like I really put the work in this time. Finishing the year off the way I did in Hawaii, getting some bigs scores and results and qualifying, makes me feel a lot more confident. Physically and mentally. I just can't wait to get to Snapper and put on a jersey.
Who will be the most dangerous surfer in 2019?
Definitely three guys: Gabriel [Medina], Julian [Wilson], and John [Florence]. Those guys are next level.
What is your goal this year?
I have some big goals. Top 10 for sure. There's locations where I know I can win, where I feel really comfortable, like Tahiti. And then just being consistent. Kanoa is an incredible surfer and to see him finish top 10 gives me a lot of confidence that I can do it as well. Being consistent is the big thing. And to capitalize at the locations I'm the most comfortable in, like Teahupo'o. I really want Teahupo'o to be 10-foot and maxing. That would be the dream.