Portuguese surf fans are among the world's most devoted, and they turned out in droves Friday for the first day of action at the Moche Rip Curl Pro Portugal. And Round 1 delivered plenty of surprises as well as wins from some Tour vets, for a wide variety of performances and results.
Several of the surprises arrived at the hands of surfers who aren't currently full-time members of the Championship Tour (CT). Armed with local knowledge and home-crowd support, guest surfers Vasco Ribeiro (PRT) and Frederico Morais (PRT) each took down giants. Ribeiro surfed first, defeating World No. 3 Owen Wright (AUS) and World No. 23 Michel Bourez (PYF) with consistent maneuvers. A former World Junior Champion and Moche Rip Curl Pro wildcard, Ribeiro was gracious in his triumph.
"It's really cool to surf against Owen and Michel, two of my favorite surfers, it's a great pleasure to be here," he said afterward. "My strategy was to start strong with a couple good scores cause it's hard to find the right waves, it paid off and I'm really happy. It's amazing to feel all the support from all the Portuguese people."
Feeding off of Ribeiro's success, Morais shook things up next. He took down World No. 2 Adriano de Souza (BRA), who's in a heated Title race with Mick Fanning (AUS) and now has to surf in the sudden-death Round 2. Building a solid set of scores in the morning's small waves, he earned the first score in the nine-point range, leaving De Souza and Kolohe Andino (USA) in his wake. If De Souza loses his Round 2 heat, Mick Fanning (AUS) has a chance to clinch the World Title in Portugal if he wins the event.
"It's hard out there but there's fun waves," Morais said afterward. "I was against the most consistent surfer on Tour right now -- Adriano -- and Kolohe, who's won a QS10,000 recently in Cascais...I needed a 9.2 so I knew I had to give everything if I wanted to be back in the heat, and do something big, something powerful."
Another surprise standout of the day was Brett Simpson (USA). Currently ranked No. 34, the Californian is well out of reach of requalifying for the 2016 Championship Tour (CT) (the cutoff ranking is No. 22 or better). He surfed against Tour veteran Joel Parkinson (AUS), who led for most of the heat, and hotshot rookie Italo Ferreira (BRA). But he pulled out a solid score at the eleventh hour, and managed to win by less than a point.
Along with the surprises was also some old-fashioned domination by some of the Tour top-ranked surfers. Gabriel Medina (BRA), fresh off a win at the Quiksilver Pro France, not only surfed to a win, but had some fun along the way (see video above). Kelly Slater (USA), whose plans for Portugal were up in the air until minutes before his heat began, literally flew in from London Friday morning, paddled out and won his heat.
"I got [an] injury about 10-12 days ago in France and I thought it was going to be kind of debilitating," Slater said. "I haven't surfed in about a week. It felt alright [in the heat], I think when the adrenaline goes you don't think about it so much and it's only half an hour. I saw the forecast, we could get some really big barrels, and I wouldn't want to miss that if it happened."
The day's other strong performance was from none other than World No. 1 Mick Fanning (AUS). Despite small-scale surf and small-scale scores to match, he put the pressure on Sebastian Zietz (HAW) and hometown hero Tiago Pires (PRT) from start to finish.
"I had a gameplan before I got ready," Fanning said. "When you see guys falter in front of you, you realize it can happen, so you just have to stick to your game. It's always great to skip a round."
The best, however, was saved for last when Josh Kerr (AUS) threw a huge stalefish air-reverse for a 9.70. His aim, he said, was to entertain the judges after a long first day of competition -- and clearly, he succeeded in spades. He surfed a whopping 11 waves in 30 minutes to take the win.