João Chianca has been one of surfing’s more exciting rising stars since he fought his way onto the 2022 Championship Tour roster. On the other side of the coin, he’s also become a case study in the brutality of the WSL’s new-ish mid-year cut and the razor-thin margin for error it creates. This time a year ago he was simultaneously a Rookie of the Year favorite and straddling the cut line. Today, he’s ranked number three in the world. That’s quite a swing.
Did João just suddenly find his groove in a hot start to 2023? Is he just getting more favorable heat draws? Funny enough, if we look at the heat scores over his eight CT appearances, the opposite is true: the rest of the CT steps their game up when surfing against João Chianca.
Let’s first flash back to January 2022. The Brazilian made a splash right out of the gate as a rookie when he and John John Florence produced one of the best heats of the season at the Billabong Pro Pipeline. Chianca famously put up a score that would have advanced against any other surfer in the draw that day, but a solid 17.77 two-wave total from Florence sent the rookie home in the Round of 16 in his first week as a CT athlete.
Florence sent Chianca home early again just two months later, this time in a Round of 32 bout at Bells — another banger. Chianca upped his scores from Pipe with an 8.50 and 9.23 — a two-wave total of 17.73. These are scores you don’t lose with. But Florence did him one better with an 8.93 and a 9.93, equalling 18.86. This time, Chianca didn’t just outscore everybody else minus Florence in the round, he outscored all but one heat the rest of the contest. And you guessed it, JJF posted that other big number. Three weeks later, João Chianca was relegated to the Challenger Series, arguably a John John Florence-loss away from spending a full year on tour.
The João-John John phenomenon isn’t exclusive to the pair though. Florence is just the guy who brings the most heat when facing “Chumbinho.” This year, for example, Chianca holds the highest average heat score of the entire tour (13.47). It’s a full point higher than the two athletes ranked ahead of him, Filipe Toledo and Jack Robinson. But he actually needs every bit of those higher scores to keep advancing, because he’s putting up that 13.47 against a higher opponent’s average.
At Pipe, the average heat score from João’s opponents was 7.64, close to half a point higher than Robinson’s opponents (7.20) and two points higher than Toledo’s (5.54). At Sunset, João’s opponents averaged 13.06 points per heat to the 11.52 from opponents of Jack and 10.31 for anybody who faced Filipe. Ironically, the two athletes Chianca has lost to this year happen to be Toledo and Robinson, both in the semifinals. At Sunset Beach, Chianca ran into a red-hot defending world champ who railed off back-to-back-to-back excellent heats on finals day. If the John John roadblock of 2022 was a real thing, we could argue it’s turning into something new entirely in 2023.
Want some more random nuggets to back that idea up? Consider that of Chianca’s eight CT appearances, four of his losses came to competitors in last year’s final five (Italo Ferreira, Ethan Ewing, Jack Robinson, and Filipe Toledo). Two more of those losses were the bonafide super heats against the two-time world champ, Florence. And with the exception of his wildcard appearance in Rio last year, which came after missing the mid-year cut, Chianca’s never had to surf in an elimination round.
But the ultimate question remains: After outlining the gauntlet of heavy hitters João Chianca has fallen to since joining the tour in January 2022, is he really coming up against stiffer competition in every other heat? Statistically…yes. Average heat scores across the 2023 CT roster have come from a pool of 94, two- and three-man heats combined at Pipe and Sunset so far this year. Chianca has surfed in 10 of those heats and seven times an opponent has put up a higher heat total against him than their season average against the rest of the CT. And it’s by a significant margin of 2.20 points in those heats. That’s raising the bar quite a bit, all for a guy who is in a much better position to do some damage after the mid-year cut comes and goes this time.