John John Florence is undeniably back. In a big day of action at the Volcom Fiji Pro, Florence proved that after a serious ankle injury in March and months of rehab, he is ready to start his 2013 campaign.
With flawless, three-to-five foot surf on offer at Restaurants, he breezed past Bede Durbidge in round two, racking up a near-perfect 19.80 heat score. A little more challenged in round three, Damien Hobgood, an odds on favorite in this event, gave him a run for his money, but Florence was ultimately able to edge him out.
"That's the best the waves have been since I've been here," Florence said. "The waves just turned on for my heat. Restaurants is just a perfect wave. It's such a machine and with these winds, every wave's just perfect. You can really just sit in the barrel the whole way."
Meanwhile, the title race took an interesting turn as world number one Adriano de Souza was defeated by Yadin Nicol in the second round. In one of the toughest heats of the day, it came down to Nicol getting a wave in the dying minutes to give him the win. As far as the title is concerned it was a crucial loss for De Souza. It will be his second throw away result of the year, which means he has to perform well in every event for the rest of the year if he stands a chance at becoming the first Brazilian world champ.
"That was a strange heat because it was pumping all morning and you think it's going to keep coming," Nicol said. "It turned out to be pretty slow and pretty bumpy and you had to wrestle with the barrels you got in. I was lucky to come out of that one. Adriano [de Souza] got that little nugget at the end, but I'm stoked to come away with that one in the end."
For his part in the chase, Jordy Smith put on a great performance, advancing through two heats in commanding fashion. A critical stop for Smith, he has never done well at a left reef break and needs to get over that hump to keep himself in contention. He definitely looks more comfortable with his backside tube riding, which leads one to believe he has addressed that weakness and is serious about winning a world title. If Smith can post a quarterfinal finish or better, it will be a huge confidence booster and could be just what he needs.
Keeping his comments brief, Smith remarked, "Overall, I had a few nice waves and I'm stoked to advance to the next round."
Kelly Slater, Joel Parkinson, Taj Burrow and Mick Fanning all surfed really well and look focused and ready. They all know full well that there's still three quarters of the season to go, and that's a long time, but a lot can ride on good results in the South Pacific.
"To be honest, I had some nerves in that heat and I made some funny decisions. I know the waves, but you forget things when you haven't been free surfing here a lot. It can get a little tricky, but it comes back pretty quick," said Slater after getting by Fijian wildcard Aca Lalabalavu in round two.
It was a great day with moments of perfection, and if the wind turns a little and the waves get cleaner over the next couple of days, we will see some incredible tube riding battles from the best in the world at one of of the best waves in the world. As a surf fan, what more could you want?
VOLCOM FIJI PRO REMAINING ROUND 1 RESULTS:
Heat 11: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 17.80, Nat Young (USA) 12.93, Kolohe Andino (USA) 9.10
Heat 12: Brett Simpson (USA) 13.20, John John Florence (HAW) 12.40, Adrian Buchan (AUS) 11.00
VOLCOM FIJI PRO ROUND 2 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Kelly Slater (USA) 16.27 def. Aca Lalabalavu (FJI) 10.90
Heat 2: Mick Fanning (AUS) 14.67 def. Alex Grey (USA) 6.27
Heat 3: Yadin Nicol (AUS) 12.77 def. Adriano de Souza (BRA) 12.60
Heat 4: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 18.47 def. Dusty Payne (HAW) 15.53
Heat 5: Taj Burrow (AUS) 7.87 def. Adam Melling (AUS) 7.76
Heat 6: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 13.50 def. Glenn Hall (IRL) 8.43
Heat 7: Kolohe Andino (USA) 11.50 def. Gabriel Medina (BRA) 9.67
Heat 8: Julian Wilson (AUS) 13.93 def. Alejo Muniz (BRA) 9.04
Heat 9: Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 15.57 def. Michel Bourez (PYF) 10.33
Heat 10: Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 17.10 def. Adrian Buchan (AUS) 17.06
Heat 11: John John Florence (HAW) 19.80 def. Bede Durbidge (AUS) 12.83
Heat 12: Nat Young (USA) 18.23 def. Filipe Toledo (BRA) 7.60
VOLCOM FIJI PRO ROUND 3 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Taj Burrow (AUS) 18.10 def. Fred Patacchia (HAW) 12.33
Heat 2: John John Florence (HAW) 16.10 def. Damien Hobgood (USA) 16.06
Heat 3: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 18.30 def. Kieren Perrow (AUS) 14.70
UPCOMING VOLCOM FIJI PRO REMAINING ROUND 3 MATCH-UPS:
Heat 4: Jeremy Flores (FRA) vs.Miguel Pupo (BRA)
Heat 5: Kai Otton (HAW) vs. Sebastian Zietz (HAW)
Heat 6: Kelly Slater (USA) vs. Mitchel Coleborn (AUS)
Heat 7: Mick Fanning (AUS) vs. Heitor Alves (BRA)
Heat 8: C.J. Hobgood (USA) vs. Travis Logie (ZAF)
Heat 9: Josh Kerr (AUS) vs. Brett Simpson (USA)
Heat 10: Julian Wilson (AUS) vs. Kolohe Andino (USA)
Heat 11: Nat Young (USA) vs. Matt Wilkinson (AUS)
Heat 12: Joel Parkinson (AUS) vs. Yadin Nicol (AUS)