Before a packed beach at Supertubos and an expectant global web audience, today was a day when holding one's nerve, of making clutch decisions in pressure situations, was of paramount importance. And that was exactly what WSL Deputy Commissioner Travis Logie did to pick the eyes out of a tricky wind/tide equation at the notoriously fickle break known as the Portuguese Pipeline. Thanks to Logie's patience, Supertubos delivered for the world's best surfers in what became the most significant Quarterfinal Round of the year so far.
By its conclusion, John John Florence had taken another significant step toward a maiden World Title in epic surf in Peniche. In the late afternoon, after a series of calls and going on hold, with the wind puffing offshore and a stacked swell unloading in front of the main contest site at Supertubos, the Quarterfinals pulsated with riffling tubes, a Perfect 10 and no shortage of World Title drama.
By making it through to the Semis with a win today over Julian Wilson, Florence now finds himself just two heats away from the 2016 World Title. If he defeats Kolohe Andino in their Semi, and Jordy fails to get past Conner Coffin, Florence would claim the World Title before paddling out again. If Smith were to join him in the Final and Florence wins, Florence will claim the Title, and he would become the first male World Champion to be crowned before the season finale at Pipeline since Kelly Slater in 2011. But if Florence is defeated in his Semi, Smith still would still need to win the event to be in a three-man Title race, along with Gabriel Medina, at the Billabong Pipe Masters in December -- the final men's CT event of the year -- in December.
"Me and Conner paddled out in the dark this morning, it was pretty wild and raw," said Florence, the Jeep Leaderboard ratings leader. "Then it kept going on hold, it was on the verge of being all-time, finally it cleaned up for the last call. When it's like this, you just surf like a freesurfer, look for any open wave. There are so many opportunities, even the small ones stand up bigger. I'm feeling good right now, relaxed. I'm getting barreled, super stoked."
Jordy Smith was facing an uphill task in his Quarterfinal heat against Sebastian Zietz, before nailing the wave of the event for a perfect 10-point ride. Air-dropping down the face of one of the biggest waves of the afternoon, Smith's exit after the spit some distance down the beach, having ridden deep behind the thickest of sections elicited a huge roar from the crowd, and left little doubt as to what the likely score would be.
"Just hard work, you dig deep," said Smith afterwards. "You think back to all the work you've done, that's why you train, so when you're out there you can take opportunities. I had one massive right with no exit, but I thought sooner or later, the door's gonna open. I haven't had a barrel like that in so long, what a moment to get it. I got six or seven closeouts, so stoked to get two (that stayed open)."
Florence will face a dangerous Kolohe Andino when the MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal recommences, who made short work of defending world champion Adriano de Souza in a one-sided Quarterfinal today. The form surfer from the European leg along with Florence, Andino will be surfing without the pressure of the World Title race and looking to secure his best finish ever on the Samsung Galaxy World Tour, as well as make a powerful statement of intent for the coming 2017 season.
Meanwhile, Conner Coffin's impressive run in Portugal continued this afternoon when he advanced from a tricky heat with Miguel Pupo. Coming into the event ranked No. 24 on the Jeep Leaderboard, and with no back up on the Qualifying Series (QS), Coffin could not only leap up the ratings to help his bid for requalification, but also put himself in contention for Rookie of the Year.
Such are the twists of fate and fortune that can befall Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour surfers in the season's home stretch. Traditionally, Pipeline is the place where careers hang in the balance, where dreams can be made or broken by increments of a point. With just three heats left to run in Peniche, we could well see such momentous events being written into surfing history right here in Portugal.