John John Florence has never been one to hype himself up. He's as quiet and understated a World Champion as you're going to find, more content to let his surfing do the talking and sail away on his Hobie Cat than saunter through the spotlight. That's made it hard to gauge where his head's at barreling into the 2019 Championship Tour season as he's been reconciled with a knee injury this offseason.
But after the first four Rounds of the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast -- there's no denying that Florence is back and he's feeling good.
For the last three months he's been working closely with his coach Ross Williams, shaper Jon Pyzel, as well as his physical therapist to get back to full speed. Slowly highlight clips started popping up on his Instagram feed -- time spent at the Surf Ranch, a few waves at Pipe and Backdoor, a lofty backside rotator sans knee brace.
While there were doubts of his return for the first event of the year, the last few days on the Gold Coast are proof that he isn't holding anything back. John John Florence has officially made his return to the Tour.
After winning back-to-back Titles in 2016 and 2017, Florence went down last year in Bali and it was Gabriel Medina that so visibly filled the void. And now that he's captured his second World Title and asserted himself as the man to beat on Tour, he doesn't appear eager to relinquish his stature anytime soon.
Now there's no escaping it. There's nowhere to hide for either surfer. This year Florence and Medina are on a collision course.
To prove his head is in the game, Florence has to not just win heats, but win heats against Medina when the opportunity arises. Florence took down 2018 World No. 3 Filipe Toledo in Round 3 of the Quik Pro putting him one step closer.
And to prove he's currently the undisputed best surfer in the world, Medina has to not just beat Florence, but dominate him.
The brewing Florence/Medina rivalry is compelling for so many reasons. Florence brings understated, mellow vibes and a loose, effortless style to the Tour. He's the people's champ in Hawaii.
Meanwhile, Medina's got ice in his veins. He's a physical specimen that just goes bigger and higher when the pressure's on. He can runaway with a heat in a heartbeat. Last year he was practically unbeatable during the back half of the season. "I depend on me, I don't depend on them," Medina stated in regards to his 2018 Title race competitors. "I just have to make heats."
And making heats is what Medina does. In total career head-to-head heat matchups, Medina and Florence have met eight times since 2012. Medina has won five of the eight matchups.
Medina and Florence are just a year apart in age and both have surfed the Gold Coast event seven times since 2012. Medina won the event in 2014, however Florence's best result was a 3rd place finish in 2017. Medina historically has also had a better average heat score on the Gold Coast, with a 13.9 to Florence's 13.16.
With the Quik Pro currently running and a Finals day expected tomorrow, we may see a duel between Florence and Medina sooner rather than later. When the event resumes, Florence will go up against Conner Coffin in the Quarterfinals. Medina will be up against Jordy Smith.
Hypothetically, Florence and Medina could meet in the Final, but as everyone knows, there's still a good amount of surfing that has to go down before that happens. Either way, Medina and Florence are both back in the ring and looking to take some big swings in 2019.
Watch the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast live on Worldsurfleague.com, App and Facebook from April 3-13.