It's been three days of wind-blown -- let's be honest, sub-par -- conditions at the Pro Zarautz. So smiles were a new trend this morning when the sun rose on clean lines of three-to-four foot, proper ground swell.
Scores quickly reflected the whole new world of opportunities with near-perfect 9s dropping out of the sky in the first few heats of the day. The wind picked up quite early from the east, blowing side-shore on Zarautz, but never really slowed down the festivities, actually providing good little ramps for surfers to fly off of.
After a short break around lunchtime, for Spain -- meaning early afternoon siesta time too -- the wind dropped again and conditions became all-time for the men's fifth round of competition.
Vincent Duvignac hasn't showed up for many events lately, rightfully taking a step back to enjoy being home with his four-year-old son, and focus on surf trips. Life on the road for months out of the year can take its toll on a surfer, and Vincent felt his days of following the Qualifying Series were over.
"I really found my balance," he said. "Surfing on the European events allows me to focus only during a certain time of the year, doing the full tour is too hard for me. I was missing out on too much at home and now with my priorities straight I'm really enjoying life to the fullest. Trips with Rip Curl are awesome too, I feel blessed to have their support."
Today he proved taking a step back from competition can be just as beneficial, as he absolutely lit up the Zarautz rights and lefts, to post an incredible 18.16 heat total. Many have called him the most stylish French surfer of the current generation, but he also showed, above all, that his full repertoire is progressive and of the highest caliber.
"I'm stoked I got to show that I could still surf like that, display variety with airs and carves," he continued. "I feel like I improve constantly, both with my boards that I continue to perfect and also I've been training smarter I think. With age I matured and now I really enjoy myself competing when I do, but don't feel the pressure I did before."
Jorgann Couzinet is undoubtedly the early season's revelation on the Qualifying Series. His back-to-back quarterfinals in Australia put his name on the map, as he previously never even made the Top 100 on the QS rankings. Unfortunately, since then, things haven't exactly been going according to plan for the Reunion Island surfer. His Caribbean leg was average and Jorgann came back to Europe in search of new momentum.
"Both in Martinique and Barbados I came really close and ended up missing a decent back-up wave," he explained. "That was really frustrating for me, but at the same time I still posted some big scores so I have the feeling that my surfing is there, I need to figure out the rest, heat strategy and mental strength."
From what we can tell after today, he has indeed found his mojo back, and then some. He scored two heats above 17 points, which included a 9.70 and a 9.50 with some classic power-carves and a little air game to round it out.
"I've had two really good heats here so far, with nines and eights, so I definitely am feeling good about it," he added. "I'm a fighter, so two bad heats won't keep me from going for it and I'm still super motivated."
Former World Junior Champion Vasco Ribeiro delivered the day's upset and definitely didn't only make friends in Zarautz, as he eliminated local hero and longtime Championship Tour athlete Aritz Aranburu in their Round Five bout.
Fresh off a runner-up result in Caparica, Vasco brimmed with confidence and dominated his Round Five matchup from start to finish.
"It's great to be back here in Zarautz and, to be honest, I didn't expect waves that good for today," Vasco said. "My boards are feeling great and I had a lot of fun in those heats. I'm really amped to try to do one better tomorrow and looking forward to next week at home in Portugal, too."
The only surfer to top Vasco's form last week was Gony Zubizarreta, winner of the Caparica Primavera Surf Fest. Gony continued to impress today in the Basque Country as he came out on top of a really tense last heat against Brazilian phenom Mateus Herdy and perennial threat Halley Batista. Gony started right off the bat with an excellent 9-point ride and controlled the whole heat from there.
"I thought stopping the comp at high tide was a mistake at first, but when I came back after lunch I couldn't believe how good the waves got," he said. "I'm not getting ahead of myself, I'm taking things heat by heat but for sure I'd love to get another win here, I won in 2009 and I really love this place."
The 2017 Pro Zarautz will crown its champions tomorrow, Sunday, in what is expected to be even better conditions for the finals.
Find out all the results, photos, video highlights and daily recaps right here.