Leonardo Fioravanti: Dark Horse Downs Surf Champs Adriano De Souza, Kelly Slater At Margaret River [Watch Live]

Ultra dark horse, dubbed “the Italian Stallion,” 18-year-old Leonardo Fioravanti has been turning heads with his searing early round performances at the World Surf League’s Drug Aware Margaret River Pro, taking down no less than 11-time world champ Kelly Slater, and current world champ and Margaret River defending champ Adriano de Souza, in that order, and earning himself a place in Round 4 Heat 2 of the event with American Nat Young and Australian Adrian Buchan.

Fioravanti is currently ranked No. 1 on the World Surf League Qualifying Series, with 9,330 points, a significant lead over No. 2-ranked Australian Matt Wilkinson, who is also surfing in Round 4 in Margaret River, who has 7,550.

Italian Leonardo Fioravanti beats world champs Kelly Slater and Adriano de Souza at the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro in Western Australia.
Kelly Slater. [Photo by Darryl Oumi/Getty Images]
Professional surfing is broken into a big league Championship Series (CS), and a smaller, though still fiercely competitive, farm-like Qualifying Series (QS). Year-end rankings determine pro surfers’ seeding for the following year. For varying reasons, including surfers scheduled to compete falling ill, surfers may be entered into CS events as wildcards, which is how Leonardo Fioravanti came to find himself surfing head to head with, and beating, Kelly Slater earlier this week, standing in for Australian Jack Freestone, as reported by the WSL.

Such an impact was the young Italian’s performance on the champ that Surfing magazine went so far as to proclaim that it was equivalent to Slater announcing his “retirement.” Besides winning more world titles than any other surfer in history, in December, Kelly Slater unveiled his “magnum opus,” a perfect man made wave, as reported by The Inquisitr.

In January, 2015, surfing in the Volcom Pipe Pro on Oahu’s north shore in Hawaii, Leonardo Fioravanti fractured vertebrae after being slammed off the bottom at Pipeline. The injury resulted in Fioravanti having titanium rods inserted into his back to support his now damaged spine. That he is surfing again, and at such a high level, so soon after suffering such an injury is nothing short of remarkable. The Italian surfer was ranked No. 135 on the QS in 2015, and now sits atop the 2016 leader-board.

As Fioravanti’s profile with Red Bull explains, Italy is not known globally as a hotbed of surf talent, making the teen sensation’s performance in Western Australia all the more noteworthy. An Italian surfer beating Kelly Slater and Adriano de Souza at Margaret River would be seen as a highly unlikely event to many observers of competitive surfing; but perhaps no more unlikely than a Floridian winning 11 world titles, or a Brazilian world champ. It may be that surfing has just gone truly global.

“A lot of my friends are on tour now, so to be able to compete is great,” Fioravanti was quoted leading up to the event in Margaret River. “I can’t wait to surf some good waves and try and take out a few of the big guys. If the waves are good, maybe the Box will be pumping.”

World champs Adriano de Souza and Kelly Slater both went down to dark horse, 18-year-old, "Italian Stallion," Leonardo Fioravanti at the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro in Western Australia.
Adriano de Souza. [Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images]
In 2015, early rounds of the Drug Aware contest were held at a nearby surf break known for its dangerous and hollow waves, the Box. So far, in 2016, heats of the event have been limited to the main Margaret River break.

Leonardo Fioravanti’s fourth-round heat may be held later today, or in a subsequent day of competition. The Drug Aware Margaret River Pro is currently in day three of a 12-day window designed to have the event held in the best conditions possible. Each morning, at dawn during the window, event organizers assess conditions and decide whether or not to hold the contest that day.

Watch Leonardo Fioravanti at the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro with the World Surf League’s free, streaming live feed.

[Image via Surfer Magazine/YouTube]

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