John John Florence faced a different set of questions today. Could he avoid getting bogged down in a stodgy Round Five heat with defending World Champ Adriano de Souza? Could he out-gun Filipe Toledo in a rematch of yesterday afternoon's madness? And indeed, would his recently-troubled knee hold up to the rigours of the brutal air show their Quarter Final surely promised to be? The answer to the first two was yes, just about. The third… what knee injury?
Whatever happens in the three remaining heats of the Quiksilver Pro France, John John will still have tenancy of the yellow jersey in the next event - and the season's penultimate - in Portugal.
The Hawaiian's buoyant mood was evident in the aftermath. "I'm super stoked to make it through that heat," Florence admitted. "It was perfect conditions for Filipe out there. Early on I kinda got caught up trying to do airs, and had to bring myself back. It was really dumpy on the inside with the super low tide, running really fast. It wasn't easy. It kinda reminded me of surfing at home at Ehukai."
Roughly twenty-four hours earlier, Toledo nearly broke the Internet with a massive backside punt. Today, only a mere handful of completed rides later, he might've broken the front end of his tiny surfboard with a vicious right hook in the dying seconds of a frustrating encounter.
For all the anticipation, for all the collective salivating, the pair was almost trying too hard. The script was they were going to go to the air. But with the impetus gone from the swell, ramps were not overly forthcoming. Perhaps sharpened from scrapping with De Souza, Florence got it over the line, while Toledo was left waiting in vain for stratospheric dramatics.
While today's clash was much less of a headline grabber, it showed another feather in Florence's cap. Rather than relying on the euphoria of high performance, he showed his ability to roll up his sleeves and get ‘em done, so to speak, against the grain when necessary.
Defending event champion Gabriel Medina, who made his way to the Semis at Julian Wilson's expense, was less sprightly in his interview. "I was feeling tired before the heat after yesterday," admitted the Brazilian. "I'm glad I landed my airs and made it, it's always hard against Julian. John is good to fight for the title. It's hard man, not because it's John, but it's just hard. I'm just concentrating on doing my job, I can't depend on the other surfers. I need to make heats, win contests, and that's pretty much it."
If post heat interviews are a thing to go by, Florence's advantage had just appreciated. But generally, they're not. Don't be fooled by the 2014 World Champ's apparent reticence. Somehow, if such a thing is possible, Medina is almost vying for a world title under the radar. With much of the song and dance around John John, Gabriel has been going about his business with calculated deadliness. Two big backside rotations made relatively short work of Wilson who never went through the gears, and while Medina had ridden a lot of waves this week, he's barely had to exert himself emotionally.
Two somewhat contrasting roads to finals day, where Florence and Medina will face Keanu Asing and Kolohe Andino respectively, lead us to a showdown that promises compelling viewing, wherever your allegiances lie.