I spoke with Jeremy Flores when he was at his nadir, last Easter. In fact that’s not quite true. He would actually get lower in the months after we spoke.
Clearly not enjoying life on tour, apparently not enjoying life much at all, I asked Jeremy what was going to bring back the joy. “I don’t know. Winning? A lot of people will read this and think, what a spoiled bitch, but you got to be in it to understand it. I come from a really simple life, from an island life, and I can’t wait to be happily done with my career and go back to a simple life. To an island life. Have a family and go back to my roots.”
Today he went back to island life, back to his roots…and he won.
Famous as a precocious and hot-blooded talent, Jeremy won the final in Tahiti today by staying calm and sitting still. Gabe Medina was always going to start the final by paddling Jeremy up and down the reef to rattle his cage. It’s the Medina modus operandi. The old Jeremy might have followed Gabe up the point, hustled for the first wave, felt his blood starting to boil and his brain overheating. Instead Jeremy sat still like a hummingbird, just let Gabe do his thing, and the universe rewarded him with the only real wave of the final.
The scene in the final today was in stark contrast to a year ago.
The waves weren’t 12-foot, to start. And 12 months ago Jeremy, instead of surfing in the final, wasn’t even in the event. He was sitting in the channel, sulking, after being banned by the WSL after getting in the judges grill in J-Bay. That was his nadir. There were zero effs given at that stage, and likewise, many gave Jeremy zero chance of rebooting his career.
How Jeremy has turned it all around isn’t exactly clear. While there doesn’t appear to be any kind of epiphany, he did, as promised, do plenty of island time. He did time with family and friends. He went back to the qualifying series and surfed some unglamorous heats in shitty locales. For a guy who believed the world saw him as a “spoiled bitch,” he worked his ass off, took his lumps, and started all over again.
Jeremy’s win today was totally deserved. He surfed like a boss all week, and his surfing on tour all year has been great. Then there is his track record here in Tahiti, where he’s been overdue a result for five years. Tahiti is his spot. He is supremely comfortable on these reefs, and the similarities to his home island of Reunion are obvious. The unhurried pace of the place suits him far better than that of his adopted home in France, where he’s often melted in the public glare.
Jeremy won today and it’s good to have him back. The tour needs his surfing. The tour needs his freely offered character assessments. The tour needs him.
Gabe Medina also resurrected himself this week. By far the strongest and most authoritative goofy in the field, he deserved his spot in the final and a shot at winning back-to-back Tahiti titles. But while last year his win was overshadowed by a) the waves, and b) the Kelly and John John hype, there could be no overlooking this year that Gabe looked right at home out there. And while he had a relatively smooth draw last year, this time around he had to beat John John, Owen, Italo Ferreira, and Kai Otton on the way to the final. They were all tough heats.
Likewise, Kelly also had his best event of the season. He didn’t get the quality of surf to reawaken his surfing completely, but the signs were good. They’ll need to be if he’s going to pull a rabbit for this world title. He’s just surfed his three pet events and only sits sixth in the ratings. A result at Trestles now looms as non-negotiable.
The world title remains a crapshoot.
It feels like Adriano de Souza hasn’t won a heat since March, and yet he still leads the ratings. Felipe Toledo surfed the perfect zero heat this morning yet somehow made world title ground. Watching him paddle back to the boat without having caught a wave, you already imagined the asterisk alongside his name should he win the title this year – * scored zero in Tahiti. From memory the last zero heat score was by Victor Ribas at giant third Reef Pipe, but this was three foot Teahupoo. It was baffling, by far the most perplexing moment of the event, and the broadcast offered no clues as to what happened. Toledo is now clustered amongst a bunch of surfers at the top of the ratings, and it’d be a brave punter to predict how the next few events might play out. As the tour moves from the end of the road at Teahupoo to Interstate 5 at Trestles, the world title is as wide open as it’s been in living memory.