Gauntlets were thrown all over the Snapper Rocks lineup Friday, as the 2016 Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour got underway in playful, target-rich surf at the Superbank for the Quiksilver Pro. The fun conditions were all the world's best needed to provide stellar performances.
This year's field is stacked with a number of squads including legendary veterans, Brazilian Storm Troopers, blue-collar sluggers, and a gaggle of fresh-faced rookies.
The Storm Troopers drew first blood with Italo Ferreira and Filipe Toledo picking up where they left off in 2015. Their acrobatic moves immediately put to rest any nervousness Commissioner Kieren Perrow had in giving the event the green light.
When the Superbank isn't delivering 12-second barrels two weeks after its best run of swell in history, Perrow is the poor guy carrying the pressure -- as if he's got a direct line to Mother Nature. He's the one who has to break it to the surfers that those barrels aren't in the forecast for this event window.
But if you're a true fan of high-performance surfing, the consolation prize just might be more entertaining, because an average day at the Superbank is still a glitzy runway perfect for showcasing all things new: boards, moves, physiques, and even haircuts if you're a wildcard like Mikey Wright.
Speaking of Wright, he had one of the bigger upsets of the day in his heat against reigning world champion Adriano de Souza, and an in-form Kolohe Andino. Andino held the lead for nearly 95 percent of the heat, and was looking like he was cruising straight into Round 3 with under two minutes to go. But Adriano struck back hard, because, well, he's Adriano, and he's never out of any heat. He stole the lead with just over a minute left.
But that's when Mikey Wright pounced. With under a minute to go he knocked his fins loose with a solid dose of reckless behavior. His flurry of lip punches vaulted him from last to first, leaving Kolohe stunned with a third-place finish.
That heat set the tone for other show-stoppers. Trials winner Wade Carmichael was matched up with with Mick Fanning and Matt Banting in his heat. The guy's been on a role of late, starting with his win at the Hawaiian Pro at Haliewa in December. Last month he kept it rolling with a QS1000 win at Avoca Beach.
It should be noted that at this time last year Carmichael was working construction jobs for his family business, just trying to get by. In January he finally landed a sponsorship deal, and he's arguably the most appreciative surfer in the event after winning the trials.
Carmichael made the most of his Prime Time slot. While Mick opened in solid form, looking as precise and pristine as ever, Carmichael answered with some serious smashing. Fanning responded with more aggression on his next wave, yet Carmichael kept the big hits coming. The battle continued until the final bell, with Carmichael taking the champ the distance, and though Fanning got the nod (and deservedly so), Carmichael enjoyed his Rocky Balboa moment.
"That was so much fun," he said afterward. "And to be out there in a heat with Mick Fanning is pretty incredible. I honestly couldn't believe it was happening."
Fanning wasn't the only former Champion with a tough draw. Kelly Slater had the unfortunate luck of running into Matt Wilkinson on a day when backsiders had an easier time exploiting Snapper's tricky walls.
Slater, at 44, looked incredibly fresh and on fire; he opened strong and looked dangerously fluid linking his moves together. But Wilkinson leaned into his incredible backhand attack which, at Snapper, involves going inverted, aggressively and repeatedly.
Wilkinson's relentless assault earned him a 9.33 on his last wave, which was enough to send Slater (and Banting) to Round 2.
Parko's latest stats haven't been inspiring. He's been sliding pretty rapidly down the CT ratings in recent years. But you wouldn't have known it today. Parko's lanky, leveraged hacks were on point, with plenty of speed and vintage flow in between.
Meanwhile, John John was working on his own piece of art, delivering a wide variety of creative brush strokes. His handy work wasn't quite enough to catch Parko, but there was no shame in losing the way he did. And on that note, Freestone wasn't rolling over either. On a day when rookies got very unfriendly welcomes to the Big Show, Freestone stayed respectfully in striking distance.