Where there is life, there is hope, goes the old saying. And darn if that didn't prove true during this year's Billabong Pipe Masters, which had a handful of key, come-from-behind heat wins. It's been a recurring theme in 2017 as we watched surfers like Jeremy Flores snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. But his wasn't the only huge comeback this year. Here's a collection of key moments when surfers fought back from the brink to claim dramatic heat wins.
Jordy Smith Keeps The Bells Dream Alive
"This is just absolutely a dream come true," Jordy Smith said after winning the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach. "Ten years of hammering away and trying my very best, I'm over the moon to get it." Before that happened, however, with 50 seconds to go in his Semifinal against Ezekiel Lau, it looked like Smith's longstanding Bells dream would stay just that. Lau, the rookie, had been impressive all week, but had left the tiniest of cracks open to the South African. Smith had been in this situation before. In 2014 he had taken off with seconds to go needing a perfect 10 against Julian Wilson and had landed just short, with a 9.97. This time he needed just a 7.25 and by the time the horn sounded as he slammed the shorebreak, he'd done enough.
Wilko Under the Hammer in Fiji
Connor O'Leary had been on tear throughout the Outerknown Fiji Pro in June. With Luke Egan as his coach and caddy, the rookie had been repeatedly boxing his more experienced opponents into corners. The Final was no different. He'd had Matt Wilkinson in combo early in the heat and with four minutes to go Wilkinson was staring down the brink of defeat. He needed an 8-point ride to win the event and claim the Jeep Leaders' yellow jersey. When a Cloudbreak set approached he had no choice but to swing. With incredible composure and no small amount of risk, Wilko landed three trademark hammer blows to get the score and squeeze out of O'Leary's vice-like grip.
Filipe Toledo Mark II
Toledo's year had been derailed by the interference call in the Oi Rio Pro and he came to the J-Bay Open having missed the previous event through suspension. If he was to play any meaningful role in the World Title race he needed to comeback at Jeffreys Bay, a wave not historically suited to his above-the- lip wizardry. However, in some of the best conditions ever seen for a competition at the break, Toledo delivered a total package of cutting-edge creative surfing that, at times, made the rest of the field look almost old-fashioned. Throughout the event, he showed a new facet to his surfing. Toledo was back and he looked better than ever.
Frederico Keeps Florence in Check
If Filipe's performance at the Corona Open J-Bay was a back-from-the-brink effort on a macro level, it was a single wave by rookie Frederico Morais that was perhaps the more pivotal. With under three minutes to go Morais needed a 8.90 to top John John Florence. The rookie from Portugal hooked into a clean one, and powered his way to a perfect, 10-point ride. It was an incredible comeback moment that blew open the World Title race and proved that Morais had what it takes to take on, and defeat, the very best surfers in the world.
Julian Wilson's Dream Run
Julian Wilson's 2017 season didn't start anything like he planned. His hopes of contending for a World Title were downright bleak after the Australian leg, and he didn't fare any better in Brazil. But he started showing signs of life during the "dream leg" stretch of Fiji, South Africa and Tahiti. He followed his 5th place at Cloudbreak with a 3rd place finish at Jeffreys Bay, where he remains one of the most dominant surfers on Tour. But his big push came at Teahupo'o, where he advanced all the way to the Final of the Billabong Pro Tahiti. With 11 mintues left to go in the event, Wilson was in a combination situation, needing two big scores to make up for Gabriel Medina's 17.88 points. He broke it with an 8.10, but wasn't done. At the six-minute mark, he nabbed a 9.23, moving him closer, just 8.64 points behind Medina in the final five minutes. Then, with 3:30 left on the clock, Julian struck gold with a wide-open spinner. The backhand tube netted him a 9.73, enough for huge win and a pathway back to World Title contention.
Medina's 90 Seconds of Terror at Supertubes
October was a good month for Gabriel Medina. In the two events in France and Portugal, he had hardly looked like losing a heat. His dominance had secured the Quik Pro France, but with 90 seconds to go in the Final of the MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal, he was, finally, staring down the barrel of defeat. Knowing a loss would severely dent his World Title hopes, Medina responded as only he can. In that minute and a half he caught two waves, landed two massive, frontside airs and stormed to victory. His second-straight win thrust him right into the 2017 World Title hunt, setting up this year's unforgettable World Title showdown.
Jeremy Flores Adds Fuel to John John Florence's Fire
John John Florence was just seconds away from the Pipe Masters victory that's eluded him for years. About 23 seconds to be exact. It was the moment he'd been dreaming about his entire life, which he's spent at Pipeline -- quite literally his own backyard. His peers already consider him Pipe's current master. Florence is a multiple winner of the Volcom Pipe Pro QS event, and his 68 percent heat win percentage at Pipeline is second only to Kelly Slater. Capturing his first Pipe Masters crown on the same day he nabbed his second World Title at home seemed...fitting. Except, Frenchman Jeremy Flores had other ideas. The 10-year Tour veteran from Reunion Island made a stunning comeback in the second half of the Final, culminating in buzzer-beater barrel that delivered him his second Pipe Masters trophy, and ultimately, a little more fuel to Florence's fire in 2018. "Are you kidding?," Flores said afterward. "Winning the Pipe Masters in the final seconds against John John Florence? I couldn't think of any better way to win." Neither can we.