All Photos: Corey Wilson
I’ll never forget that thud. It was July in South Africa — sunny, brisk, relatively still — and Jeremy Flores had just lost a Round 2 heat to Sebastian Zietz at the the 2014 J-Bay Open. For Jeremy, the newfound result came at the heels of a 13th place (second-to-last) in Fiji, which came at the heels of three consecutive last place finishes at Rio, Bells and Margarets. Another 25th didn't feel good, especially when it came via Seabass’ last minute wave and a margin of .14 points. His face looked different when he walked arrived on the sand after that. It was the face of a man who’d been pushed too far.
I learned in journalism school that you should always chase the face of a man who’d been pushed too far. So I followed Jeremy. Down the beach, towards the scaffolding, up the steps, to the enclave that housed the judges. Then came the thud.
It was either from his board slamming the floor or his fist punching the metal wall — depends on who you ask — but it was indisputably loud. The thud was immediately followed by the silence of confusion, and then came a tirade of English which was accented by both a French tongue and absolute rage. And after that came a one-event suspension. That’s why you didn’t see Jeremy at the Billabong Pro Tahiti last year.
This year, though, you did. You saw him surfing Teahupo’o in a helmet. You saw him taking off late and deep. Then you saw him on the podium wearing a big Quiksilver hat and a bigger smile while hoisting a trophy above his head. You saw his reputation change.
Suddenly, Jeremy Flores is the guy who tells his doctors sorry I’m not sorry and competes at a wave that can destroy the human body while he’s recovering from a concussion because he’s not about to miss this event two years in a row. Now he’s the guy who swerves through oversized tubes with the type of talent and panache that has been embodied by a very select amount of people in the history of surfing. Today, he’s a champion, a hero, a role model. And that’s fucking awesome.
It’s awesome because Jeremy never did anything wrong. The J-Bay incident last year wasn’t model behavior, but it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It was a moment of passion. And sure, we all like to experience passion in a positive way but it doesn’t always work like that. You show me someone who’s never been passionately angry and I’ll show you an emotionless pussy. There’s a certain level of enthusiasm where civility takes a backseat, a certain level of competitiveness where professionalism (or whatever behavior you decide to define as “professional”) disappears. There’s a point where the heart takes over. Ever seen an MLB player scream at an ump? Seen a NFL player clutch his fingers around a face mask and pull? It happens, and it happened with Jeremy last year.
No it wasn’t protocol and yes every surfer shouldn’t verbally lash the judges after they lose a close heat, but passion is going to happen and it’s a shame that Jeremy was vilified for it last year. The good news is that redemption came today — or at least it came to surface today. Really, things changed a lot earlier than four hours ago. They changed when Jeremy got last place at the season opener on the Gold Coast and had nothing but good things to say afterwards. They changed when his mindset changed, and today was both a culmination of and a testament to the power of both passion and positivity. Maybe there’s a lesson in that. Maybe scream at your boss today. Maybe show him or her the best damn piece of work you’ve ever submitted shortly thereafter. Maybe print out a picture of Jeremy Flores’ face and put it on your inspiration board.
Wait, do you really have an inspiration board? —Brendan Buckley