Reigning world champion, John John Florence, put on one of the most dominant displays in the history of competitive surfing over the weekend to claim the second world tour event of the year at Margaret River in Western Australia. The 24-year-old Hawaiian former-child prodigy was simply in a different league, posting a record five 19-point-plus heat totals (out of a possible 20) on his way to victory.
"I got really lucky getting on that first one right off the horn," reflected John after winning the final. "I got a few fun ones after that, but that was a really good one. I love this wave, it's so fun and you go so fast and can draw a good line out there."
During his semi-final, John suffered a bad gash to his arm and feared he might have broken it following a heavy stack on dry rock.
"I didn't know what to do so I jumped and ended up hitting the reef really, really hard," Florence said.
"At first I actually thought I'd broken my elbow, but I came in and had a doctor do some work on it and coupled with the adrenalin of competing, it all came good for the final."
It changed nothing. He paddled out half an hour later for the final and obliterated his opponent, American Kolohe Andino, racking up his fifth 19-plus heat-total of the event. All on the back of his signature frontside gouge; a move performed with a level of speed, flow, style and power far beyond the capabilities of his competitors.
"This is one of my favourite places to come to," Florence said. "(Andino) used to beat me all the time at nationals so I kind of wanted to get him back."
"The wind stayed clean and the waves were so fun out there. I love surfing this break and just going fast and doing big turns," he said.
John was raised as one of three to single mother on the North Shore of Oahu where he grew up surfing the world's heaviest and most powerful waves from the age of seven. Margaret River is famously similar to the raw energy of Hawaii, in particular the wave John grew up on at Pupukea. The earlier rounds of the event, meanwhile, were contested in some of the biggest waves ever for a contest, with wave heights reaching up to 15 feet.
Margaret River is also famously a haunt for Great White Sharks. In 2014 Australia's south-west coast, which includes Margarets, held the dubious distinction of being the fatal shark attack capital of the world. Competitors preparing for last year's event, meanwhile, were forced to flee the line-up after a shark estimated to be around 15 feet long pulled up near surfers.
"It looked like a submarine," Tour rookie, Kanoa Igarashi told Stab Magazine at the time. "It was creepily emerging out of the water and it kept growing, the fin — it never stopped. I looked over and thought 'woah there's a dolphin next to the shark' but it was actually the tail fin!
"The tail fin was like seven, eight feet away from the main fin and it was thrashing around and then shot down. I looked over at Caio and he had the most scared face I've ever seen … I'm calling a 15-footer."
With the Australian salmon in season and coursing through the lineup, the contest had to be put on hold during the men's semi-final between Filipe Toledo and Kolohe Andino after sharks were also spotted in the water.
"We were about five, ten minutes into the heat when we saw splashing," said Andino. "Neither one of us could surf after that. I paddled over to Strider and said, 'There are sharks over here!' We were just sitting out there with no idea what to do, I was sitting by myself. I couldn't even think"
"I was trying to talk with Kolohe, and guys on the ski were saying it was fish, and I knew there was more than fish," added Filipe. "But we got out and they're going to clear the lineup (the jet skis are equipped with Shark Shields technology)."."
Since Mick Fanning's encounter with a Great White Shark during the final of the Jeffrey's Bay world tour event in 2015, the World Surf League has implemented several shark deterrent measures, including a shark shield device on its jet skis and increased patrolling of the contest zone by jet skis and helicopters.
John John now takes the yellow leader's jersey from Owen Wright, who last event pulled off one of the greatest comeback's in the history of sport by winning the Quiksilver Pro, Gold Coast despite suffering a serious brain injury 15 months earlier. John John now heads to the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach (beginning April 12th) where his patented frontside gouge once again has him installed as the favourite.
In the women's Australia's Sally Fitzgibbon caused a major boil over by beating three-time Women's World Champ, Hawaiian, Carissa Moore in the semi finals before taking out reigning Women's world champ, Australian Tyler Wright (brother of Owen) in the final.
Fitzgibbon, who is married to Penrith Panthers and NSW National Rugby League prop, Trent Merrin, also turned aheads on account of her competitive fire.
A controversial exchange to open up her semi with Carissa Moore ended with the Hawaiian returning to shore in tears after the heat. It has some speculating on a return to the mean girl days of the nineties women's circuit.
"Thing is, there's an untapped well of friction on the women's surfing tour bubbling away, but no one goes there. I've been on surf trips with a few of the women on tour and get them started on each other and it quickly turns into an episode of Mean Girls, so the fact everyone is so damn nice to each other during events gives the whole thing the plausibility of a Pepsi commercial. What I'd give for Lynette McKenzie back on tour.
At Margaret River, however, the pretty picture got crushed a little and it was Sally Fitz – the sweetest girl on tour – doing the crushing," wrote the legendary surf scribe, Sean Doherty.