Earlier this week, we featured a list of the best individual performances of 2017. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of them were one-sided affairs. But several of this season's most pivotal moments came during highly competitive bouts. Here are five of the best battles from 2017 which we won't soon forget.
Jordy Smith vs. Ezekiel Lau - Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast - Round Three, Heat 7
During Round Three of the season opener in Australia, South Africa's Jordy Smith, who finished the 2016 season as runner-up to John John Florence, arrived on the Gold Coast hoping to make a strong push toward a World Title campaign. But he learned pretty quickly that nothing would be coming easy. In Round Three he faced Hawaiian rookie Ezekiel Lau, right after he'd handed Filipe Toledo a devastating Round Two loss. The two big men hit the lineup in the final heat of the afternoon of day two, just as a new swell was arriving. Zeke took the lead after bagging the first 10-point ride of the season with 11 minutes to go, which was another early-season shot across the bow to the rest of the CT field. But Smith was undeterred. Needing an 8.5, he stayed in the hunt, and came back big in the closing moments to claim a 17.3 to 17.0 win. After enduring years of crippling injuries, Smith let it all hang out emotionally after getting the score. Watch it here..
Caio Ibelli vs. John John Florence - Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach - Semifinal 1 Since his 2016 arrival on the Championship Tour, Brazil's Caio Ibelli has been like an annoying pebble in Florence's shoe. Early in his rookie season he handed Florence two painful, Round Three losses, at Margaret River and Bells Beach. While Florence got payback in Brazil, at year end, Ibelli, the 2016 Rookie of the Year, held a 2-2 record vs. the reigning World Champ. So when they met again during the Semifinals at Bells, there was plenty of pride on the line. Florence was looking to set the record straight, and he was in command, after dropping a 9.93 midway through the heat. But with 30 seconds left, Ibelli was still within striking distance, needing an 8.5. Sure enough, the Brazilian got an opportunity, and as the clock ticked to zero he unloaded on his final wave, earning an 8.73, which netted him a 17.63 to 17.43 win, his first-ever trip to a CT Final and another clutch notch in his belt against Florence. Watch it here.
Frederico Morais vs. John John Florence - Corona Open J-Bay - Quarterfinal 2 The high-powered rookie from Portugal earned his second-straight win over John John Florence during the Quarterfinals of July's Corona Open J-Bay in South Africa. The match was a full-blown slug fest, with both surfers putting on a great show. Florence was in control through the midway point, with Morais in a combination situation. But the rookie wasn't about to roll over. He clawed his way back with a massive late charge, racking up a 9.77 and a 10.00 to take the huge 19.77 to 18.67 upset win over the reigning World Champion, and the Quarterfinal loss for Florence opened the door for his fellow World Title contenders to gain ground, most notably Gabriel Medina, who made the Semifinals in South Africa. Watch it here.
Julian Wilson vs. Gabriel Medina - Billabong Pro Tahiti - Final
In fitting fashion, the best heat of the entire Billabong Pro Tahiti occurred during the incredible Final between Gabriel Medina -- then ranked No. 9 -- and Julian Wilson, who was then No. 8. The two had battled in the Finals before, during the Pipe Masters in 2014, when Julian pulled an incredible comeback victory to take the win. Despite sitting in a combination situation (needing two new scores to catch up) with just over five minutes to go, Wilson was able to somehow repeat the feat in Tahiti, nabbing a 18.96 to 17.87 victory. While Medina was thrilled to be back in the World Title hunt, the 2,000 point difference between first and second would come back to haunt him after his European tear. Watch it here.
Jeremy Flores vs. John John Florence - Billabong Pipe Masters - Final Jeremy Flores was billed as one of the biggest potential spoilers heading into this year's World Title showdown at the Billabong Pipe Masters. Europe's most successful surfer ever is both a 10-year CT vet and a former Pipe Master, who's dangerous whenever the waves get hollow. He didn't disappoint this year. First, Flores eliminated World No. 2 Gabriel Medina in the Quarterfinals, putting the final dagger in his World Title hopes, and handing the trophy to Hawaiian John John Florence. But Jeremy wasn't done. After eliminating Kanoa Igarashi in the Semifinals, he had one more dream to snuff out. John John was still after his first Pipe Masters victory, and with 30 seconds left in the Final it was right there in his grasp...until Flores caught the final wave of the season with 22 seconds on the clock, and stole the victory by the tiniest of margins, 16.23 to 16.16. Watch it here.