There was a lot to keep track of on Day 4 of the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach as sets upward of 20-feet lumbered through the iconic Victorian lineup. Boards were broken and limits were tested, including an experience Italo Ferreira called "The craziest moment I've ever been in," as he was swept down the coast after hacking at a monster close out.
But the respective performances logged by Gabriel Medina and John John Florence gave clarity to just what was possible in the turbulent ocean. While many tried simply to survive and not get bucked off all the bump, the two 2x World Champs went into attack mode like it was a three-foot beachbreak.
Not one competitor's heat score broke the 15-point barrier in the Round of 32 until Medina put up a 16.03 against Wildcard Reef Heazlewood, tallying the contest's first 9-point ride along the way.
Then, feeling right at home in the conditions that were more akin to stormy Sunset Beach, Florence went one better, posting a 9.5 on a bomb and landing a 17.67 heat score against Jadson Andre.
"These waves are fun for me because you're going so fast," said Florence, who at times looked more like he was snowboarding than surfing. "You don't have to generate any of the speed. You can really set your rail if you get a clean face on it."
The story was exactly the same in the Round of 16. Even with luminaries like Ferreira, Filipe Toledo, Kelly Slater and Jordy Smith all advancing into the star-studded Quarterfinals, Medina and Florence performed in a league of their own. The lines they drew off the bottom, the points they picked by hammer the lip, the casual confidence they projected racing down the chop-riddled faces, these two were out playing while everyone else was working.
Medina's 17.27 effort over Willian Cardoso seemed impressive until Florence came out and stole the show, going near-perfect on a 9.63 ride and ultimately finishing with an 18.16 heat score, the highest of the event.
"In waves like this everyone has to change their entire game plan. It's a different mindset," Florence surmised.
That's not to say the heavy water didn't take its toll on the two. It was a long, hard day of surfing.
"I got so worked," Medina admitted. "I took a couple sets on the head. I'm tired. I just want to go home and rest before tomorrow. I think tomorrow the waves are going to be better."
Medina and Florence will now meet in the Quarterfinals for what has to be considered the heat of the year thus far.
"I'm super stoked to go up against Gabe in my next matchup. He's been ripping and dropping some massive scores. Hopefully the waves are still pumping," said Florence.
Given the heat scores from yesterday, Florence would appear to be the favorite. But since both jumped on Tour in 2011, Medina has more or less owned Florence. In head-to-head matchups, the two have met nine times, Medina has won six of them. However, their average heat scores against one another are neck and neck, with Medina at 14.99 and Florence at 14.78.
The last time to the two met, in the Semifinals of the Quiksilver Pro France in 2017, Medina edged out Florence by a mere 0.4 of a point … but to be fair, Florence did end the year with the World Title.
With all the talk at the Rip Curl Pro of the Heritage Heat between Tom Curren and Mark Occhilupo, the Medina/Florence rivalry shares some similarities. Medina's the powerful goofy-footer, while Florence is the casual, regular-footed stylist. Medina is a media darling soaking up the spotlight, while Florence could care less about sitting for an interview. He'd just rather be in the ocean.
Like Curren and Occy back in the early 1980s, Medina and Florence have long been touted as "the future of the sport," and now that they've come into their own, their dynamic approaches, competitive mindsets and the unique way they read and approach waves will continue to push the sport to new and exciting heights.
So this begs the question -- is Medina vs. Florence the new Curren vs. Occy?
Whatever the answer, Medina and Florence own four of the last five World Titles between them. And for the first time in 2019, they'll be squaring off against one another in a high-stakes, no-holds-barred, matchup.