In the past, surfing (competitive and free) was divided. There were guys with incredible style and flow, and there were guys with lots of energy and dynamic moves. The latter came in varying degrees, from the barely watchable to Kelly Slater. Kelly sacrificed his desire to surf like Tom Curren in order to receive higher scores from the judges by appearing more radical through extra and unnecessary body movements--a sin almost every competitive surfer is guilty of.
Contest surfing aside, every maneuver can be improved upon by executing it with the least amount of movement possible. Up until now, Joel Parkinson has been the best example of this. His surfing on a rail and in the tube is as close to perfection as anyone could ever achieve. He even has a solid array of seamless aerials, but his pursuit of a world title and unfortunate injuries have prevented him from ever progressing the sport to the next level.
Which leads us to the current crop of under-21 surfers. If you haven't watched a Junior Pro event lately, I highly recommend you do so, because the governor for differentiating freesurfing from contest surfing has been taken off. Today, every single competitor is capable of, and regularly completes, maneuvers that have previously been relegated solely to expression sessions or video parts.
One surfer among all those prodigies stands out from the pack. He's not the best competitor, definitely not the best small-wave surfer, and plenty of guys his age have more power. But, even with his Pipeline mastery an afterthought, John Florence is advancing the sport tenfold by bringing his surfing to a new level. He brings an ease and simplicity to the most difficult of transitions between the wave, his board, and his body, as he casually rides down the line, arms relaxed at his sides. Once in the air, John incorporates a snowboarding and skateboarding influence as he mimics their use of properly timed head, shoulder, and arm movements to maximize height, rotation, and recovery. Board sports that are already performing 900-plus-degree rotations are having a huge influence on surfing right now, and it seems the first 720 on a surfboard is not far off. John is pushing the limits of what is possible on a surfboard, and has pointed out the direction everyone else must head in order to follow in the footsteps of Dane Reynolds as the best surfer of the next generation.
The future direction of surfing is becoming clearer now, and it will be the proper balance of style and progression that will be ushered in by the 21-and-under crowd. Now they must wait for their day to come and for the ASP to add the word "style" to the judging criteria. When this becomes a reality, then we are all in for a real treat.