JJF's first wave of the semi (Sloane).

“It was surfing’s Rumble in the Jungle, Ali versus Foreman.”

Kelly Slater versus John John Florence, Teahupo’o 2014

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Best surfing I’ve ever seen? Too easy. Teahupoo. Billabong Pro 2014. The semi-final between John John Florence and Kelly Slater in probably the most perfect heavy waves competitive surfing has ever seen. The two undisputed heavyweights champs in those kinds of conditions, both totally at the top of their games, going blow for blow in oily 10-to-12 foot drainers. It was surfing’s Rumble in the Jungle, Ali versus Foreman, and the only thing that sucked about it was that someone had to lose. They actually tied on points. Kelly won by 0.1 of a point on a countback. But if you ask me they should have called off the comp after that heat, split the prizemoney between the two of them, and given Gabby a few extra points for already making the final. That would have been a good resu

I actually had a ringside seat for the whole show. I’d just lost the first semi to Gabby but there was no way I was going in. The surf was just too amazing. I paddled over and sat with Owen Wright (who went crazy in that comp too by the way) and no sooner had the hooter blown did John John turn on the first wave of a macking set and get absolutely caved off his bits no hands. Then on the second wave Kelly slides into a total beast, gets sucked high up the face and over the foam ball and then spewed out into the channel. Owen and I were just looking at each other screaming “OH MY GOD!”

I think John John got a 9.9 and Kelly got a 10 and from that moment it was just on. There was no hint of gamesmanship or tactics from either of them. They both knew what the other was capable of doing out there and you could tell they didn’t want anything to get in the way of the surfing. You could see on their faces how much they were enjoying it.

To this day I’ve never seen such effortless surfing in those sorts of waves. Everything they did, be it freefalling out of the lip, or wrestling over foam balls, they just handled the most critical situations, everything Chopes threw at them, with pure mastery. It was the pinnacle of gnarliness and I think as good a heat as you’ll ever see in pro surfing. And it might sound cheesey but surfing was the winner of that heat. Just like Occy versus Curren at Bells, or Andy versus Kelly at Pipe, it’s one of those pro surfing moments that will live forever. I was just sad that there had to be a loser because I honestly don’t think I’ll see surfing like that again in my life. It still gives me goosebumps talking about it.

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Bede Durbidge