Saturday at Supertubes in Peniche, wildcards and injury replacement surfers continued to shake up the upper echelon of the men's Jeep rankings. Round 2, the first sudden-death round of the event, started with a few upsets in quick succession.
Caio Ibelli (BRA) and Mason Ho (HAW) forced devastating results for World No. 3 Owen Wright (AUS) and World No. 4 Julian Wilson (AUS). Both Ibelli and Ho threw huge airs, earning enough points to topple their heavyweight opponents and advance on to Round 3. The two veteran Aussies, on the other hand, were uncharacteristically out of form, taking tough losses in the second-to-last event of the year.
For Ibelli, who is currently ranked No. 2 on the Qualifying Series (QS) -- the next-lowest tier of surf competition -- the heat was a taste of things to come. His high ranking on the QS almost guarantees him a spot on the elite Championship Tour (CT) in 2016, where Wright and the rest of the top surfers will be his direct competition.
"Checking the waves before my heat I couldn't really plan anything because every three minutes the rip completely changes the wave," Ibelli said. "I just tried to keep busy and move around to try to be in position for the good ones. It's my first heat win ever on the CT, and it feels really good."
Event Wildcard Mason Ho (HAW), 27, produced another huge upset, eliminating World No. 4 Julian Wilson (AUS). Ho found a clean little barrel to put a first good score on the board, before sitting patiently for more than 10 minutes while Wilson was doing laps on another peak, working to extend his lead. In the dying moments of their matchup, Ho took it to the air and stomped a clean forehand rotation to out-score Wilson and take the win.
Read Ho's pre-event interview on going big and Blue Crush vs. Big Wednesday.
"It's cool to have my dad over here, we made a little plan and I stuck to it even though at times I thought I should go camp with Julian, but I got a couple of opportunities and luckily I landed everything," Ho said.
Wilson's disappointment at his early elimination was palpable.
"I'm shattered, to be honest," he said afterward. "The conditions today are better than when I surfed my first round and we had a good heat. Mason was able to get an air at the end and turn the heat. You work so hard all year to get in the Title race and then it comes down to these conditions. It's a tough pill to swallow for sure."
Among the Tour's top surfers who won their Round 2 heats, John John Florence (HAW) put on one of the day's most exciting performances with his signature air game to eliminate Glenn Hall (IRL). The heat was not only a return to form for Florence, who lost his Round 1 heat, but also something of a payback for his Round 2 loss at the Hurley Pro in September, when he was the one suffering defeat at the hands of Hall.
"I was a little nervous because Glenn is such a strong surfer," Florence said afterward. "I have the rest of the year to prepare and get ready for 2016, so I'm taking advantage of each heat to see what works."
Current WSL No. 2 Adriano de Souza (BRA) also regrouped after a tough Round 1 loss to put on a dominant performance against local hero Tiago Pires (PRT). The win keeps De Souza in the Moche Rip Curl Pro, and his World Title hopes alive.
See who else is in the 2015 World Title race, and what they need to win.
"For me it was really tough -- Tiago is one of my best friends and I didn't want to match him in my draw," De Souza said. "Tiago and I were fighting for opportunities out there, so I'm happy to make it to Round 3. I have a dream to win this World Title, and I've worked extremely hard to achieve it."
Amid fading, high-tide conditions, the contest was called off for the day after Round 2, Heat 7.
Catch more elite surfing when the action resumes at the Moche Rip Curl Pro Portugal. Watch live daily starting at 7 a.m. local time on the WSL website and WSL App. Kai Otton (AUS) vs. C.J. Hobgood (USA) will be up first in Round 2, Heat 8.