"I've never even made a WQS final," Native Hawaiian Keanu Asing reflected, after disrupting the World Title race with the most unlikely of victories at the Quiksilver Pro, France.
While there were four surfers left at the beginning of finals day, all eyes were on Hawaiian wunderkind John John Florence and 2014 Brazilian world champ Gabriel Medina, as they had been all event, when the semi-finals were finally called on at 3 in the afternoon.
Medina is rivalled only by Mick Fanning as the world's foremost competitive surfer since Kelly Slater. Florence is rivalled only by Medina as the most world's naturally talented, again, since Slater. World no.1 and 2, past Quiksilver Pro France champions, and the two stars of a World Title race that's tightening with every event, the day was meant to be about them.
In the non-elimination Round 5, Florence and Toledo featured in a contender for heat of the year, where Toledo notched the only perfect 10 of the event, and stole the heat from Florence by just 0.03 points, before Florence got the upper hand in a quarter-final rematch. Medina, on the other hand, took down event wildcard Leo Fioravanti – the Italian prodigy and Qualifying Series leader who handed Kelly Slater a last place finish – as well as rival Julian Wilson, on his way to the semi-finals and the final day.On opposite ends of the draw, the two surfers nervously worked their way through the event to what most assumed would be a blockbuster final between the two, particularly after the elimination of the dangerously high flying Brazilian Filipe Toledo.
Even Kolohe Andino, the other remaining surfer on finals day, would have been much more favoured to take out this event than Asing. For Andino, having qualified the same year as Medina and Florence in 2012, and who had been backed by his big money sponsors to reach World Title glory in his first two years on the elite tour, being in the finals with the 2014 World Champ and the Hawai's favourite son would feel his rightful place.
Those three are superstars of surfing, are the future faces of the sport, and are on multi-million dollar sponsorship deals.
Keanu Asing is none of those things.
Coming into France, Asing had finished equal last in all but two events, was sitting at a measly 33rd, and was on track to fall off the tour by the end of the 2016 season (the cut off being 22nd place). No-one, probably not even Asing himself, would have predicted a Quiksilver Pro France victory for the little Hawaiian, even when down to the final four. In fact, it would bat the eyelids of nobody if he were to become one of the many World Tour surfers that have go a whole career without a single event win.
But that underdog status is a trope Keanu Asing relishes. Back in August, after an upset Round 3 win at the Billabong Pro Tahiti, he told the live broadcast:
"I'm fighting for money, for my career, my work, and I'm not gonna let these guys just take my money and take my job so I'm gonna give it the best I can and that was the best I had."
And today, Keanu Asing successively beat the two biggest stars in the surfing world to win his first ever event. Back to back, he didn't let them take his job, nor his money.
In both his heats on a slower, smaller day Asing managed to find two clean left handers that provided enough real estate for him to use his workmanlike backhand, and then tacticianed his way to a victory. Throughout the whole event, Asing only surfed two waves judged to be in the excellent range, that is, scoring higher than an eight. Both of those came in his semi-final heat against Florence, who despite doing the best surfing of the heat with an 8.4, struggled to find the rhythm, or a back up score, out there amongst the shifting French beach break in those 30 minutes.
Their slow energy semi was in stark contrast to Medina and Andino's, Medina surfing 15 waves and dominating with waves scoring 9 and 8.83 that put Andino in a combination situation, and had Medina looking unbeatable. That was, of course, until he was beaten. By freaking Keanu Asing! Asing, with just a heat total of 13.94, out stategised the tour's most wiley surfer in the final, forcing Medina into an inconsequential interference, and surprising the world a with a WSL elite tour event win in the middle of a World Title race he has no business being a part of. If you're into wins for the little guy, figuratively and literally, you were into this.
"Against all odds baby, that's what I'm all about," Asing said. "I've been the underdog my whole life and all I know is the taller they are the bigger they fall."
Tyler Wright Is The 2016 Women's World Champion
Prior to Asing's event victory, Australian Tyler Wright was crowned the 2016 Women's World Champion after her closest point score rival, American Courtney Conlogue, was beaten by eventual event champion Carissa Moore in the semi-finals of the Roxy Pro France. It has been an incredible year for Wright, who won four events and, with Conlogue, broke a mini-dynasty of female surfing held by three time World Champ Carissa Moore and six time World Champ Stephanie Gilmore.
It has was an emotional victory and emotional day for Wright.
She dedicated the win to her family, and in tribute to her older brother Owen – the 2011 World Title third place getter who has been recovering with extensive brain injuries for all of 2016 after a horrific wipe-out at Pipeline durfing last Hawaiian Winter – Tyler took off on her first wave in the final surfing goofy, the same stance as her brother. She flexed in a muscle man stance and pointed to the number on her back, which she had changed from 13, to her brother's number 3.
"At the start of the year, with everything that went on with Owen it was such a hectic six months," she said. "For how much he's done for me in the last few years, I said if I could win the World Title I wanted to do an event with his number on my back. So I changed it to number three for the remainder of the tour. He's on quite a journey and I love him very much and it's probably the most emotional year I've had ever. I don't think I've cried as much as I have this year in my entire existence on this planet."
She also dedicated the title to her uncle, whom she lost last year, as well as her family and the close-knit surf community of Culburra on the NSW South Coast at large.
The Tyler Wright World Title also marks the first time in a decade that neither Hawaiian Carissa Moore, nor Australian, Stephanie Gilmore, have held the World Title. The last before them was Layne Beacheley, way back in 2006. Which, at a stretch, is a tad serendipitous, in that Tyler first made news in surfing as the 14 year old winner of the Layne Beacheley classic. Making Wright the youngest male or female to win an elite surfing event, a title she still holds today.
The Women's Championship tour picks up again at the Maui Women's Pro at Honolua Bay Hawaii on November 23. A victory lap for Tyler Wright at one of the world's most fun rights, while the likes of Gilmore, Moore, and Conlogue will look to hit refresh and get their campaign for 2017 started early.
The Men's Championship Tour continues with the European leg in less than a week in Portugal for the Meo Rip Curl Pro on October 18, before the dramatic Title decider moves to the legendary Billabong Pipe Masters on December 8.
Mathematically, there are still nine men who could become the 2016 World Champion in two events time (Medina, Florence, Wilkinson, Smith, Andino, Wilson, Toledo, Slater and De Souza). But Slater and Smith just finished equal last, pushing the Title a little further out of their reach and halting any momentum they'd picked up in the back half of the season. While Wilkinson, after an unprecedented start to 2016, winning the first two events and holding the World No.1 ranking for the whole first half of the year, has slowly slipped off the pace as the season has progressed and the surfing of Medina and Florence has lifted. Sadly, Wilko hasn't surfed in a quarter-final or higher since back in June at the Fiji Pro. Nope, after the lead and consistency that Florence and Medina have built up over five of the last six events, at least one of them featuring in every one of those finals save The Hurley Pro, Trestles, seeing someone else contending for the 2016 Title is hard to picture. Impossible even...
But then a Keanu Asing event victory was also impossible to picture just a day ago too.