Are we sure we can't script this? Because when we envisioned the day Kelly Slater finally found the winner's circle again it sure looked a lot like this one. After all, perfect Teahupo'o was the ideal setting for this type of feat. And had you asked Kelly beforehand if he could pick anyone to beat on the occasion, there's little doubt he would have said John John Florence. And that's exactly who he got.
"This is for sure one of the best wins I've ever had," an emotional Slater said afterward. "To have John John in the final is a dream for me. You know, where I am on the back end of my career and him and Gabe on their way up…those guys are monsters."
Slater's legend grows. The 44-year-old just bagged his 55th elite tour win; his 5th at Teahupo'o. His average heat score for this event was a mind-bending 18.29; his average wave score a 9.14. The crazy thing is that Slater's already-ridiculous Teahupo'o stats are getting better, but that's what four 10-point rides in one event will do.
Slater also earned the prestigious Andy Irons Most Committed Performer Award; something that has eluded him since its inception in 2011. "I've always wanted this one," Kelly explained. "I know Andy would love this, and hate it," he added with a laugh.
Slater's win wasn't enough to overshadow the other big story of the day, which was John John Florence's long-awaited ascension to the top of the CT ratings.
Florence will be donning the Jeep Leader yellow jersey for the first time ever next month at the Hurley Pro; he's been working tirelessly for it this season. The uber-casual Hawaiian has made it abundantly clear that anything less than a world title this year will be a disappointment. Taking over the ratings lead is a monumental first step, but now comes the bigger challenge: holding on to it.
While Matt Wilkinson is still ranked No. 2 there's little doubt now that Florence's biggest threat is Gabriel Medina. These two young titans are at the cusp of dominating the sport for the next decade, and their rivalry is sure to heat up. They just may be the sport's latest iteration of Andy vs. Kelly, Tommy vs. Occy, and MR vs. Cheyne.
They're every bit equals and opposites.
But while much will be made of their differences: regular vs. goofy; Hawaiian vs. Brazilian; Hurley vs. Rip Curl, the truth is that they're more alike than they seem. They've both grown up frothing to surf. They both excelled early and lived lives under the media microscope. And staring at them through our fish bowl we've seen all of their sides: the good, the great, the bad, and the clumsy. They're human. And that's what will make their battles so intriguing.
We got a terrific glimpse of it during their Semifinal clash. The back and forth battle went all the way to the wire, as they took turns weaving through gorgeous green caverns. It got absurd midway through, with both surfers bagging extra 9s that didn't even make it into their heat totals. The judges had to have been throwing up their hands, because trying to decipher who was deeper and who took off later was all for naught…they were splitting hairs. In the end, despite Medina's perfect 10, John got the nod thanks to his pair of high 9s. He finished with a total of 19.66 over Medina's 19.23.
Something tells me Gabe will get his turn.
Of course, the list of spoilers is longer than ever, which is a testament to the most talented field of surfers ever assembled on tour: Kelly to Kanoa, Julian to Jordy, Wilko to Parko, De Souza to Ferreira. We've never seen a field like this.