"A war of attrition," said Kelly Slater.
The surfers who won today will skew their impression of the day in favour of the rare opportunities it presented.
Those that lost will hate Portugal right now. They’ll hate the pernicious winds and tides. Hate the closeouts and brutal rips. Hate the cold.
Hate that it’s yet another place where Brazil reigns supreme.
It was a workmanlike day. Not necessarily an ideal day for a surfing competition in the eyes of most, but a day with waves nonetheless.
“A war of attrition,” said Kelly Slater.
It opened to four stacked elimination heats in testing conditions.
Caio Ibelli called it “crazy, dangerous”. He’d had the worst wipeout of his life in competition. “If I could have an inflation vest, I would,” he said after winning his heat with a mere 7.57 points.
We lost Kolohe Andino, Federico Morais, Zeke Lau and Maxime Huscenot.
Andino cuts a sorry figure on Tour these days and never looks like winning anymore, regardless of conditions. Needing a 1.98 to advance through his heat, he caught a knee-high foamy insider and couldn’t even stay on his feet to finish it.
He scored a 1.73, and deserved nothing more.
Federico Morais threw a hissy fit of epic proportions, losing to Kanoa and Slater. I’m sure he felt it was a valuable opportunity lost, being his home event, but the ferocity with which he punched his board was striking to the point of embarrassing.
And there must be some sympathy for French rookie Huscenot. If not for Callum Robson’s late miracle wave, he would have gone through. He was on the QS forever trying to get here. Back he goes.
But despite the opportunity for upsets, all the names advanced, and in the end the only surprise was Callum Robson’s stupendous ten as the heat ebbed away.
He spun on a wave that seemed to rise from nowhere. A tube as thick as it was tall spat like a Targaryen dragon trying to incinerate the Aussie chippy, yet he emerged from the fury for an undeniable perfect score.
It was the first ten of the year, and the best wave we would see all day by some margin. The Yeti cooler he gets as a reward won’t just be a fucker to lug back on the plane, and the apex of cheesy WSL gimmickry, but is actually quite demeaning in the context of that wave.
Going on hold immediately after this would seem like a bizarre decision on paper, but it was probably the right one. Renato Hickel delivered a “man vs nature” mantra and told us the tide was too low.
Water patrol skis were bottoming out and it was too dangerous.
When we returned at 1300 to commence the round of 32 the tide had filled in a bit and things had cleaned up, just a little.
The overlapping heat format was employed, less to take advantage of good conditions, and more because the waiting period is dwindling away.
The draw looked imbalanced from the outset and still does. At some point I need to unpick the methodology of this. I know it’s seeding dependent, but with Robinson, Florence, Ferreira, Medina and Colapinto on one side, it sure doesn’t look right.
To my eye, there were three main upsets in the fourteen heats completed, and little to write home about as a whole.
The first was our reigning world champ losing to Joan Duru. Though on European soil and heavy beachbreak, which Duru is sneaky good in, perhaps it’s not much of a surprise. Joan only caught three waves, but Toledo couldn’t find any of the clean water he prefers.
The second (minor) upset was Sammy Pupo producing late heroics to bump Kanoa Igarashi from the competition, despite having an eight point ride in his scoreline.
Kanoa has still not found his rhythm this year, and Portugal being more or less his home event, this was the place we might expect him to get into his groove.
By contrast, on evidence of his fledgling career to date, Sammy Pupo seems rarely out of rhythm.
In Pupo, Chianca and Dora we already have three more Brazilians with few weaknesses who might just be contenders at some point.
They just keep coming, like a zombie hoard.
There’s a real opportunity for points in the first half of the draw. Critical points, too, with the cut looming. One of the following four will make the semi-final in Portugal: Joan Duru, Ian Gentil, Callum Robson and Sammy Pupo.
Another sparky rookie in Rio Waida was responsible for the third upset in dispatching John Florence from the competition. It was a scrappy heat, with Waida’s paltry 9.30 good enough over Florence’s 9.17.
Both are much better than this, but every heat that Florence loses in this way feels precarious. We’re early in the season, of course, and I couldn’t claim to know anything of John Florence’s wants or desires, but I do know we want him to stick around at the business end of competitions.
On paper, and given consistent waves, the tastiest heat in this round was Joao Chianca’s match-up with Slater.
Strider noted that Kelly had been disgruntled with Chianca pre-heat, presumably for his over-exuberance in the competitor’s area. He needed to “calm down” apparently, evidence perhaps of both Kelly’s seniority and Chianca’s polarising personality.
In the water Chianca was composed enough to stitch together some mid-sixes, which more often than not are enough to beat Slater these days. Kelly did have the highest wave score of the heat with a 7.33, but with a couple of mins remaining, too late was the cry.
Notable was a small tube Chianca muscled into with a double arm drag, then out of with brute force. It came on a wave that Kelly wanted, which likely would have given him the score he needed.
Two heats remain before the round of 16. With no disrespect to Jackson Baker or Seth Moniz, all eyes will be on Medina and Colapinto.
And there were many, many eyes in attendance at Supertubos today, proving, as if it needed proven, that the European leg is critical for fan engagement.
The WSL is often guilty of hyping the crowds that aren’t there, but the drone angle revealed a beach thick with punters. I’d question the 40,000 number Kaipo threw out, and I’d question the fact that many were gathered on the fragile dunes rather than the beach, but it was certainly a substantial and welcome support, as noted by some of the athletes.
This crowd will thin out midweek, no doubt, but the forecast is not without promise that we might yet see some classic Supertubos before the work is done.
In Portugal, as in surfing, there is always the promise of something more.