Was Tuesday the coronation? Are we officially at the beginning of the John John era? Has the phenom grasped a throne he won’t soon relinquish?
I’m leaning towards yes on all fronts. The Billabong Pro Tahiti plowed through round after round to take advantage of the ideal conditions, Tuesday at Teahupoo. When it was all said and done, the two giants still standing were John John Florence and Kelly Slater.
Two years ago, Slater and John John put on what was considered maybe the greatest heat of all time in their semifinal meeting at Teahupoo. It was like Ali and Frazier throwing haymakers back and forth and nobody really wanted to see either lose.
This time around it was Slater who landed the much heavier shots and earned the combination TKO victory. He showed all day long why he’s still paddling out in a singlet, winning not only his first event of the year, but his first since the 2013 Pipe Masters.
But with four events now remaining on the 2016 schedule, it’s Florence will enter Trestles wearing the gold jersey. It seemed likely coming into Tahiti and was almost assured when Matt Wilkinson lost in the third round to Bruno Santos. Florence and Gabriel Medina had to be licking their chops after that result, knowing that their destinies were essentially in their own hands.
It was John John who was able to most take advantage, mowing down Joel Parkinson, Julian Wilson and Medina in succession to reach the final. That lineup is as fierce as it gets in Tahiti, but Florence emerged unscathed.
The yellow jersey can certainly be a target, but it’s also a symbol of recognition. It shows who is at the top of the food chain. For many years, that top level has been occupied by Slater and he was back to his former self Tuesday. He dropped bomb after bomb — exploding for a perfect 20.00 against poor Keanu Asing, who didn’t deserve such treatment; adding a third perfect 10 in a 19.27 total to top upset-minded wild card Santos; coming back to earth for a comparatively meager 18.40 in the semifinal against Ace Buchan.
He then held onto the symbolic torch for one heat longer as he scored a pair of near-perfect rides for a 19.67 total in the final to earn his 55th career victory. That’s a staggering stat for not just its indication of obvious dominance, but the longevity needed to achieve it.
It’s quite fitting that what could be looked back on as the official beginning of the John John era paired Florence and Slater in the final, with the veteran showing what still makes him the best of all time. I’m of the opinion that 15 years down the road, we’ll be debating whether Kelly or John John is the best ever. So to see them still going head-to-head in amazing conditions and landing heavy shots back and forth is something special that doesn’t occur in most sports.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.