MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal

Slater Joins Lethal Gang of Spoilers in Portugal

Paul Evans

During the MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal, most of the Top 34 choose to stay in a salubrious golf resort north of town. Nestled amongst eucalyptus and coastal pines and set above some choice, swell-pulling beachbreak peaks, the estate also offers the sweeping fairways and manicured greens that some of the top surfers love for down-day distraction.

Title Contenders Take Hits

In terms of opening day at surf events, though, versus golf tournaments, the choice of lodgings might be where the similarities end. In golf, a bad day at the office or even a momentary lapse of technique can be your undoing, with everything to be lost. In surfing, no lasting damage is sustained during Round One, while much headway is up for grabs.

On a day when scoreboard austerity reigned, low numbers were the norm as a combination of factors conspired to make 6's enough for a lot of surfers to advance. Tubes tended to run away and pinch, air sections were mostly bereft of sufficient depth for landings, while open faces for carving were rarer than a vegan dish of the day in Peniche's famous seafood restaurants.

Slater Tops Rookies

But in typical, spectacular outlier fashion, 11-time World Champion Kelly Slater -- far from out of the 2016 world title race but operating outside of the full glare of the Florence/Medina tussle at its sharp end -- slipstreamed out of the chasing pack to nail the day's highest individual wave score for a rapid 360 air reverse.

"Looking at the young guys, that's what keeps you fresh and new, taking inspiration from the direction they're taking" said Slater. "I was surfing the smaller days up in France with Leo [Fioravanti]. You gotta see where surfing is going, and that's from the guys coming up. Established guys at the top, or who've been around a long time, they've kinda had their time to create." Just as he seeks performance inspiration from the cool kids, Slater appropriately indulges in the youthful vernacular. When asked for a reaction to the Top 3 all being sent to Round Two, Slater jovially responded, "Sick!"

Wildcard Morais Tops Medina

There's been a man going around taking names for a few years now in Portugal. Cometh October and the Samsung Galaxy World Championship Tour stop, cometh Frederico Morais, serial giant-killer. Previously having eliminated Slater and Fanning in recent years, today the 2013 Triple Crown Rookie of the Year out-maneuvered an out-of-sorts Gabriel Medina. When conditions render scoring opportunities scarce, the rangy regularfoot from down the coast in Cascais has made something of a specialty of getting out of stingy, low-scoring heats with title race frontrunners at Supertubos.

"Every surfer knows how hard it is to qualify," said Morais after staging his latest, customary upset. "But there are three more big events on the QS and I'll be giving them my all." Focusing on the sizable, serious task of qualification, rather than dwelling on cameo wildcard moments in the sun is typical of Morais' grounded professionalism, as well as the tenacity installed in him by coach Richard "Dog" Marsh.

Round One Standouts

There is a mathematical chance John John Florence could be crowned the World Champ here in Portugal, assuming Medina loses early and the Hawaiian can make the Semis or better. In order to do that though, the yellow jersey-wearer would first need to make it past the local wildcard Miguel Blanco in Round Two. Sent to that round by a loose and lethal looking Jadson Andre, the Brazilian revealed much about tactics, etiquette and a glimpse inside the usually private world of heat-of-battle chat.

Jadson Fights for Tour Life

"It's really tough when someone like John needs a 7 in a beachbreak," said Andre. "Even when it's a closeout, that's all they need to get an 8. I was sitting on him, to put some pressure on him… that's my job. After I said ‘Sorry' to him, but he's such a mellow guy. He said, ‘It's ok, I would've done the same.'"