Before he paddled out for his heat in 2019, Italo Ferreira had never surfed The Box and had little idea what to expect.
"I was so nervous before the heat," he admitted.
"I watched a lot of video," he explained about his preparations.
But on his first wave of his first heat in the first heat of the day, Italo, as he does, left everyone's jaws on the floor.
Stroking into a beast of a slab, he somehow made it to the below-sea-level bottom, snuck under the lip without grabbing his rail and survived the firehose spit to make a clean exit. The judges tossed him an 8.17 for the effort, which looking back on it now, seems to be another one of those "that wasn't a 10 for Italo?" moments.
The Brazilian went on to make the Quarters for a fifth-place finish, which ultimately contributed to his World Title campaign.
Italo has been surprisingly good at Margaret River, when he's had the opportunity to compete there. The contest was relocated to Bali after a shark incident in 2018, where Italo lost early. In 2017, he missed the event due to injury. But in 2016 he sprinted all the way to the Semifinals for a third-place result. His worst result came in 2015, when as a rookie he settled for 13th.
While famous for his air game, Italo actually seems to enjoy big, heavy conditions. During the extended offseason we saw him score a session at giant Nazare, as well as charge a slab back home in Brazil.
The overall success in West Oz has to give Italo some confidence. Plus, it is the one spot on Tour that his closest rival, Gabriel Medina, has struggled.
He copped a 17th-place finish there in 2019, and in 2015 and 2017, he stumbled through Elimination Round losses against two wildcards. One has to go back to 2014 for his best result, a 5th-place finish. But this is a new Medina we're seeing and past performances could be meaningless.
Whatever happens, Italo's sure to entertain, and after falling off the pace in Narrabeen, he'll be relishing the opportunity to unleash his surfing in more open waters.