One jaw-dropping move has put John John Florence’s season back on track and shown why many rate him the future of men’s surfing.
The 21-year-old Hawaiian phenomenon produced a stunning aerial manoeuvre on Monday at Bells Beach that earned him the first perfect-10 wave score of the season.
More significantly, it also helped propel him to a round-four heat win over 11-time world champion Kelly Slater and current world No.1 Gabriel Medina.
In a day of pulsating action at the Rip Curl Pro, well-credentialled Australians Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson and Taj Burrow also graduated to the quarter-finals after winning in the fourth round.
But the story of Easter Monday was Florence’s brilliant flourish.
Four judges scored the wave ride a 10 and the fifth rated it a 9.5.
“I had no idea what it was going to be scored,” Florence said.
“I couldn’t tell what it felt like, really.
“Having a heat like that just builds my confidence so much.”
Slater was on the back of a jet ski, heading back out to find another wave in the heat when Florence produced his masterpiece.
“When he landed I thought oh, he was just stuck to his board,” Slater said.
“You can’t really do a better ‘air’ than that.”
Parkinson, watching from the beach, was gobsmacked.
“John John tricked everybody,” he said.
“I was just baffled when I saw that.”
Florence had struggled for form since finishing runner-up to Slater last December at the Pipe Masters in Hawaii.
Producing a perfect score in such a talented heat took care of that problem.
Florence is from Hawaii’s North Shore surfing mecca and appears destined for stardom.
“Just to make the heat and to win it over those two guys – I was pretty nervous going into it and I tried to forget about surfing against them,” Florence said.
“I surprised myself – I landed perfectly.
“I’ve had a hard start to the year – just to be in the quarters and make it this far, I’m over the moon.”
Florence is the odd man out of the round-four winners, and not just because he is the only non-Australian.
Fanning, Parkinson and Burrow are in their 30s and are all former Rip Curl Pro winners, while this is just the second time the youthful Florence has competed at Bells.