A number of surfers living on the edge of realistic Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour qualification expectations significantly improved their chances today. Others with higher rankings, in contrast, may have seen their chances slip through their fingers like the crunchy sand blanketing Sunset Beach.
Once again the Vans World Cup of Surfing provided plenty of drama for Dream Tour hopefuls and spectators. The final event of the 2016 Qualifying Series served up a volatile cocktail of nerves, pressure, tactics, conditions and performance as a six-pack of top ten-ranked surfers, including No.'s 1-3 (Connor O'Leary, Joan Duru, Kanoa Igarashi) and No. 5 Leo Fioravanti, No. 8 Bino Lopes and No. 9 Ryan Callinan failed to advance out of Round Three.
A handful of surfers hovering between the No. 10 and No. 21 position took advantage of the faltering top seeds, with No. 10 Frederico Morais continuing his dominant form in the face of mounting internal and external pressure. "In my position, being 10th on the QS right now, it is really hard with what's going through your mind. You're thinking about qualifying, but trying to take it one heat at a time," Morais told the WSL. "And being Portuguese," he continued, "the only guy from Portugal who's ever been on tour is Tiago Pires, so I've got people texting me, 'C'mon man!' and you don't want to let them down [laughs]."
Also advancing was the Brazilian duo at No.'s 12-13, Jadson Andre and Jesse Mendes, who solidified their chances. "I'm feeling great now, but it was a struggle," acknowledged Mendes. "Those of us on the QS know more than anyone about [qualification] points, if someone says they don't they're probably lying. But I'm just wanting to make heats, not really hoping for others to lose," he told the WSL.
Further back at No.'s 16-21, a mixed bag of surfers with slightly longer odds will hope to leapfrog the pack. That list includes both current and former CT surfers, Jack Freestone and Tanner Gudauskas, along with Brazilian Deivid Silva and Frenchman Marc Lacomare. "Sunset, it's such a fun wave and being on my backhand, it's almost like an advantage in these conditions," said a relaxed Gudauskas. "I've learned a lot from past heats here, I used to be tense but my brother Dane told me to 'Enjoy the moment, try to relax and trust it.'"
As is usually the case when the men in the red jerseys (the highest seeded surfer in the heat) hit the water in the Round of 64, it's like clockwork -- the performance level rises significantly. The CT guys surf a tick faster, their turns are crisper, and their moves are a few degrees more progressive. This was no better exemplified than by current World Champion John John Florence, who turned a pocket-carving blow-tail and critically late lip launch into the day's biggest single wave score: 9.77
Once again, the forecast calls for a slowly decreasing swell on finals day, but it may be for the best. With the surf focusing more directly onto the shallower reef at Sunset Point, conditions will be more predictable with less emphasis on positioning, and more attention on performance.