In his first heat of his first event as a member of the WSL Championship Tour Sunday at the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast, Griffin Colapinto unequivocally smashed it. Not only did he win his Round 1 heat, surfing with a confidence that's rare among rookies -- much less 19-year-olds -- but he took down reigning WSL World Champion John John Florence and current Qualifying Series (QS) leader Mikey Wright in the process.
"I knew that Mikey was going to paddle deep to get the inside, then John John did too," said Colapinto. "Luckily for me, they both fell on their first waves and when mine came through it was a good one. It feels really good to get the Round 1 win over with those guys in my first event, but I'm trying not to hype it up. At the end of the day, it's only Round 1 and I have goals of getting some big results this year, so I don't want to get ahead of myself."
For most rookies, the kind of praise that Colapinto has received since a young age (not, in fact, unlike the fanfare that preceded Florence's ascent) could go up in flames upon arrival on surfing's big stage. But, based on the tiny sample size of one heat, Colapinto isn't most rookies.
"I've seen thousands of young surfers with so much talent over the years, but it's that extra special ability and determination that sets kids like Griffin apart," Janice Aragon, executive director for the National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA) told The OC Register when Colaptino qualified. "I figured it was only a matter of time for him to qualify and he pulled it off so soon." Among the numerous trophies that Colapinto collected as an emerging talent in San Clemente, California, were two from the NSSA.
And yet, even heading into the event, the young grasshopper with great expectations showed no nerves -- at least, not too much to ruin his game. Chatting a few days before the 2018 Quik Pro kicked off, he said, "Sometimes there are these little things where my mind will rush off into the end of the year all of a sudden. I just have to make sure I don't fall into that trap.
"I try and watch my mind a lot to make sure I'm not going to trip over myself. I can hear myself getting scared that I wouldn't make it past the end of this year, or requalify. But I know that [my mind] is going do that. You have to watch it and know it's trying to mess with me. So once I realize that, I just go back to this moment and have fun."
That wisdom may be directly attributed to Colapinto's longtime coach, Jake Paterson. "Jake told me that the first year on Tour is all about having fun," he said. "'Don't even care about results, and have as much fun as you can, it's all about learning. Even just being able to requalify is good.' Once my first heat starts, I'll try and do that."
Colapinto, who's known as a veritable sponge for information, was clearly listening hard. When he paddled out in the rain Sunday morning at Snapper in Round 1, he was all intention and electricity. Taking off on his first wave of his CT career, the confidence practically dripped off him as he raced down the line, threw some spray and scored a 7.67, which would be the highest of the heat.
For Florence, it was his first Round 1 heat loss since October 2016. That's far from that he probably had in mind this morning, as sipped his coffee and visualized eviscerating his opponents, but it's just the first 30 minutes of what will be a long year. Meanwhile, for Wright, the Quik Pro wildcard and sibling of Owen and Tyler, his third place heat finish was likely a disappointing start -- but nothing that will tarnish his stardom in the land Down Under. But for Colapinto, it was perhaps the most auspicious kickoff to this new chapter that he could have imagined.
Perhaps most tellingly, however, just beneath the laid-back, SoCal beach vibe that he exudes, Colapinto's also taking cautionary tales to heart. Before heading back to the lineup, he recalled comments from Ethan Ewing, a similarly fêted rookie who had a spectacularly disappointing 2017 season, and is now working his way back up on the Qualifying Series (QS).
"He said something like he wishes he had just focused more on the QS [for results] and just had fun on the CT," said Colapinto. "I think he was putting pressure on himself for both. Probably pretty smart to do it [the other] way."
Catch Colapinto surfing next in the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast Round 3, live on the WSL and Facebook.