After winning the ‘QS in 2015 and then following that up by winning Rookie Of The Year honors on Tour in 2016, Caio Ibelli has already accomplished his 2017 goal by making his first ‘CT final, at only the third event on the 2017 schedule, no less. We caught up with Caio while he was (literally) sitting on an airplane in Australia, awaiting takeoff back to Los Angeles, where he'll spend a few weeks recharging before heading to Brazil for the next event on Tour.

With 30 seconds to go in your semifinal at Bells, you needed an 8.5 to beat John Florence. How were your nerves when that set was approaching?

Sometimes I'm actually better off when I'm pressured, because I just block everything out and try to go really hard, almost without thinking. I've had a few heats now against John where I got an opportunity in the end, so in that semi, with one minute to go, I was just hoping it would happen one more time. And it did! I was so stoked when I saw that set coming. I saw Zeke Lau was paddling out, he looked over at me and said, "Oh my god, look at that wave." It was perfect. I went really hard on it and did everything I could. I finished the wave right in front of John, and since he was on the beach already he couldn't do anything. I was so nervous waiting for the score on the sand. The score came, an 8.5, and I was so stoked. It was one of the best times of my life. Controlling all my nerves and getting the score in the last second to make the final felt unreal, especially against John.

Well, now you're 3-1 against the world champ. Do you change up your approach against a surfer like him?

Yeah, of course. When you go against John, or Mick, or any of those top guys, you can't make any mistakes. You know you're gonna need at least a couple of 9's. And over the last two years John has been so consistent and surfing so well, I knew going against him I would need the better waves in the heat and I knew I would have to perform at my very best. I feel like the best guys on Tour always get a chance at the end. They always get a last second wave. I lost to Seabass in the last 20 seconds at Margarets, and it's really frustrating when you're winning the whole heat and the other guy gets a wave and then they get the score at the countdown. So it felt really good when this one went my way.

Bells is a tricky wave, but it looked as though you have it pretty dialed. The only surfer you've lost against man-on-man at Bells now is Jordy – in Round Five last year, and now the final. Have you spent much time out there?

No. That was actually my second time to Bells. Before last year, I'd never surfed it. But I really love the wave, and last year, I paid a lot of attention to what sort of equipment everyone was riding, so I could figure out what to bring this year. I brought some different boards this time, a little thicker and a little wider, because Bells is a wave where you can really do big maneuvers. So, I've probably had about 10 total freesurfs, but freesurfs are hard out at Bells because it's usually inconsistent, the whole Tour and a bunch of groms are all out, so it's kind of a four-wave-per-session type of thing. But it's so sick to be in a heat out there with only one other guy. You can really feel the vibe.

While the judges got the results right in the end, at times I thought they were scoring waves high early, and pigeonholing themselves between 8- to-10 points. Did it feel like that at the event, or is that a case of the webcast not painting the entire picture?

I think it gets really hard to judge when the waves are good, because it's so tough to predict what's going to happen in the beginning of each heat. I think the scores have been pretty spot-on. There were a few weird scores at Bells, but with surfing, that's always gonna happen. But when the waves are good and everyone is ripping, you see them dropping a lot more 8s and 9s — the amount of 9s at Bells was incredible, but I think that really came down to the surfing. Nowadays, with the replay cameras and the super slow-mo, you can really see and judge each turn, and I think they're doing a good job. Sometimes the first wave would score a little high, but then that sets the scale, and from there they were getting it right, which is what matters.

You won the ‘QS in 2015 and the Rookie Of The Year on the ‘CT in 2016. It's been a good couple of years. What's it going to take to become the third Brazilian world champion? Is that on your mind this year?

Winning the world title takes a lot, and I feel like I take a little longer to figure things out. Every year I'm learning more and more. And I have so much more to learn. I feel like I have what it takes to fight for a world title and hopefully I can do it soon, but I'm just taking my time, improving my surfing, and hopefully, one day, I'll be able to do it. Right now I'm working more toward being consistent. Last year, I saw all the rookies make a final, and I was the only one left out of making it that far. So that was my goal this year – to make a final. And so now I know it's not impossible. I broke the barrier that I had in my head, and now I just want to go out and do it again.

[Photos: Joli]