The opening day of the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup presented by Corona went largely to script in the Men's. The top seeds John John Florence, Gabriel Medina, Italo Ferreira, and Filipe Toledo all progressed to Round 3. As a collective their surfing, with the exception of Italo, was controlled rather than explosive.
Yet some of the day's brightest sparks, both in and out of the water, came from Jeremy Flores. Now the 32-year-old might have looked like an unlikely source for some small wave spice. In his 14th year on Tour, and with his four CT victories coming in barrels at Pipe, Teahupoo, and Hossegor, the waves at Merewether could have have blunted his weapons.
"When he looks this alive, you just know the motivation is there," WSL commentator Ronnie Blakey said after Flores dropped his first solid score. The 6.67 saw him take a lead that he never relinquished.
In the post-heat interview he was both pragmatic ("I had low expectations of myself in waves like this, but that's the great thing about surfing; whoever is on the best wave has the opportunity to win"), and playful. His exuberance of being a father and his love of being in Australia with his wife and young family, with all its current freedoms, was one of the day's highlights.
The performance by Flores means all his competitors will do well not to underestimate his capabilities, especially if a predicted bump in the swell arrives next week. After all, the Frenchman secured the last of his five top 10 finishes in 2019, when a win at the Quik Pro France also helped secure his Olympic berth for the Tokyo Games.
More recently he also locked in a credible fifth in the Pipeline Masters. Of course with the WSL Finals in featuring the top five rated surfers by September, there is no doubt that Flores will have making an appearance at Trestles as a burning ambition. Sure, after one heat win that might be drawing a long bow, yet Flores' surfing, and attitude, showed that he has to be included in a group just outside the big names in with a real shot.