"It was hard surfing against Stuey, especially in Round Two," said Connor O'Leary after his defeat of Stuart Kennedy. "It was bound to happen at some stage, but of course it happened here in Brazil, when we are staying together."
The rookie counts Kennedy as both a good mate and mentor and believes Kennedy played a big part in his qualification last year. While based in Cronulla, O'Leary spends a significant chunk of his time off tour surfing with Kennedy's home break of Lennox Head, where O'Leary's girlfriend also lives. The two have also spent the last few years traveling together on the Qualifying Series (QS).
"His determination and his focus is what I'm trying to emulate," O'Leary said last year. "I'm fairly cruisy, can get easily sidetracked and not be as focused as I could be. When Stu's in an event, he just clicks into this focused, determined, animal."
It seems Kennedy's approach has rubbed off on his younger charge. Focus wasn't an issue as they put their friendship to the side and put on the best show of the day. O'Leary was one of the few non-Brazilians to really get the crowd screaming on the way to a heat total of 18.20, Round Two's highest. He used his major weapon, a power-packed backhand with drawn-out bottom turns and vertical hammer blows to the lip, to earn a pair of nine-point rides and a throwaway eight.
Kennedy has pushed O'Leary throughout his career and today was no different. He showcased a different approach to the goofyfooter's power, offering more variety and progressive edge. It wasn't enough though, even if his losing heat total of 15.16 would have won every other heat surfed today, bar none.
"Stu's been ripping and hopefully he will get some results during the year," O'Leary said. "He's one of my best mates, so I want to see him do as well as me."