"He lost his fins, almost came unstuck and turned the turn into a thing of pure beauty."
That was Mick Fanning describing Frederico Morais' first turn of his final wave of his Quarterfinal against John John Florence. Needing an 8.90 to turn the heat, having been in a combination situation just 10 minutes earlier, the Portuguese surfer known as Kikas dropped a perfect 10 to win. In a day full of superlatives, in a competition that will go down in history, this might have been the performance of the event.
"We always have close heats me and John, and taking off needing a 8.90, I knew I had to get an 11," he told the WSL. "I had to give it everything I had. There was no option."
Morais might have beaten the World Champion with that drifting fins first turn, but in reality the win can be traced much further back. In 2015 Morais headed to Jeffreys Bay for the first time after competing in the Ballito Pro. Even then he had the confidence to foresee a future on the CT and knew lineup experience would be crucial once he made it. He repeated the experience last year, building on the data he had gathered on his first trip. Both times he chose not to travel with a filmer or photographer and instead took along his coach, Richard "Dog" Marsh.
"Fred likes to the have the work done before he turns up to event," said Marsh. "It's not the time to be making changes. And he's a gnarly competitor; it runs deep. He really, really wants to win." The preparation has showed. He's been on the same board for every heat, another result of working closely with his shaper JS for a number of years. He ordered a quiver specifically for this event after Fiji and has found a magic stick.
The two trips to J-Bay, plus his upbringing in the powerful point breaks near his Cascais home, have meant that his wave selection has been unrivaled. For a rookie, that is a truly remarkable.
However, even given his 19.07 heat score in Round Four, where he bested John John Florence and Mick Fanning, the Quarterfinal performance was a new line in the sand. Again it was completely mistake-free, but you don't beat John John just by eliminating errors. You do it by elevating your surfing to his level. There was also the minor matter of being hauled into a boat just prior to the heat due to the presence of a large shark.
"Sharks are not something we have to deal with in Portugal," he said. "And to be honest, I didn't really want to jump off the boat. However, when you see Mick go straight back in, after all he's been through, well it was clear what to do. I'm sure stoked I did."
That Morais did his surfing under all those levels of extreme pressure made this win even more special. An already solid start to his rookie year has now just turned interstellar. Even a Semifinal loss to Gabriel Medina should see him climb into the top 10 and requalification is almost assured. However, there is no way Morais will settle for that. Today's effort means he will back himself to go all the way. The work may have started two years ago, but he is now two heat wins away from one of the biggest upsets seen in recent years. And as Mick said, it's been a beautiful thing to watch.