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Fourth place on WSL leaderboard for SA’s Smith

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South Africa’s Jordy Smith ended fourth on the year-end leaderboard as Hawaii’s John John Florence clinched the 2017 World Surf League (WSL) title at the Billabong Pipe Masters in Oahu, Hawaii this week.

Florence became the first male surfer since the late Andy Irons (also Hawaii) to successfully defend a maiden world title.

Irons defences came in 2002 and 2003. Mark Richards (AUS, ’79 & ’80), Tom Carroll (AUS, ’83 & ’84) and Tom Curren (USA, ’85 & ‘86) are the only other male surfers to have achieved this feat.

‘It’s been my dream to win here at home,’ Florence said. ‘There’s been a nervous build up to this event and I just don’t know what to say, I’m shaking. So many people have been here for me this year and it’s been awesome. It’s been an awesome year and I’m just so stoked.’

Florence’s season started out with strong results during the Australian leg, including his first event win of the year in Margaret River.

After two 13th place finishes in Rio and Fiji, Florence steadily improved his results through the remainder of the season. With a 5th place in both Jeffreys Bay and Tahiti, followed by semi-final berths at Trestles and in France, Florence reclaimed the Jeep Leader Jersey from closest rival Smith.

South Africa’s top surfer, Smith went into the last event of the season ranked No3 and with a mathematical chance of clinching his first world title. But the two-time WSL runner-up was defeated by 11-time world champion Kelly Slater (USA) in Round 3, finishing equal 13th in the event and dropping to No4 on the yearend leaderboard.

Going into the Billabong Pipe Masters, only four surfers remained in contention to clinch the title, but contenders Gabriel Medina (BRA), Julian Wilson (AUS), and Smith weren’t able to deliver the results needed to block Florence at his home break in Hawaii. Florence’s victory was sealed after Medina was eliminated today in the quarter-finals at the hands of eventual event winner Jeremy Flores (FRA).

‘I think I learned a lot about myself this year competing with all the pressure, especially coming from last year’s win,’ Florence continued. ‘It’s been a hard year and I’ve had some ups and some downs, but mostly I had a lot of fun. I think that’s what came out of last year and I really, really wanted to enjoy every moment of it.’

Universally regarded as one of the best all-round surfers, Florence has diligently worked at improving since qualifying for the elite WSL Championship Tour (CT) in 2011. A seven-year competitor on the CT, the surfer form Hawaii claimed his maiden title in 2016 with an early-season clinch in Portugal, having previously finished in the Top 5 twice before (4th in 2012 and 3rd in 2014).

With this second title, the surfing world is eyeing the beginning of a new dynasty in high-performance surfing.

‘It’s been scary being that close in points to someone like Gabriel (Medina) who’s such a great surfer out here and a fierce competitor,’ said Florence. ‘His comeback in Europe was amazing, he won two events in a row and then was right there in the title race. Surfing with him out here has been nerve racking but it would have been cool if we had a final for the title.

Picture of Smith in Pipe Masters action courtesy of WSL/Poullenot


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