After five days of waiting, the 2017 Hurley Pro at Trestles began in earnest today, with plenty of World Title implications and sub-plots bubbling up like the rising south swell on Day 6. For the second year running, wildcards at the event produced jaw-dropping upsets against Title-chasing surfers, as the No. 3- and No. 4-ranked surfers on the Championship Tour -- Matt Wilkinson and Owen Wright -- were dispatched successively in Round Two elimination heats.
Last year it was Tanner Gudauskas and Brett Simpson doing the dream-wrecking, this year it's two Qualifying Series surfers, Evan Geiselman (QS No. 29) and Hiroto Ohhara (QS No. 13) who put Wilkinson and Wright's Championship chances in jeopardy. As usual, small conditions at Lowers played their part. Often times, when the afternoon heats begin to hit the water an adjustment in strategy is required, as the conditions shift radically and do an abrupt about face. While the predominantly northwest sea breeze -- Southern California's version of a trade wind -- torments the rights, it produces a nearly ideal air wind for the lefts. That was a key element that the goofyfooted Geiselman did not overlook.
While Wilkinson stuck to his gameplan to focus on the rights, Geiselman went left under priority time and time again. With time ticking away and Wilko sitting on a pair of 5s, Geiselman stretched his sizable lead with a big frontside air 360, stabbed the face and spun around cleanly. After the loss, Wilko was left shaking his head, wondering if he'd made a tactical mistake. The top 10 attrition continued in the final two heats of the day, when World No. 7 Joel Parkinson and No. 10 Connor O'Leary were bounced unceremoniously, as well.
Early in the day, it was Jeremy Flores who set the pace, however. Ever since he first arrived on the Championship Tour a decade ago, Jeremy Flores has been a dangerous draw in all types of conditions. Although many of his best results have occurred at places like Pipeline and Teahupo'o, a wave like Lowers provides the opportunity for the Frenchman to unleash his small-wave repertoire. When he's on, his surfing is serpentine, as he rhythmically coils and uncoils his body through a series of twisting torques. After his win over Owen Wright, who's ranked World No. 4, and Josh Kerr, ranked No. 35, in Round One, Flores credited his shaper -- Gold Coast-based Jason Stevenson of JS Industries surfboards -- and his equipment for the win. "JS is making me look as good as I can look," he said with a smile. "You've got to be on the best waves in that 30-minute time, if you're not you lose, simple as that."
By mid-morning, the Tour's top-ranked surfers -- Jordy Smith and John John Florence -- dropped their markers with impressive wins.
The opening moments of World No. 1 Jordy Smith's Round One heat laid the groundwork for a comfortable win. "I was able to take command of the heat early and just stay patient," said the South African. Early on, he was sandwiched between rookie Ian Gouveia and wildcard Geiselman in an aggressive paddle battle for a mediocre split peak. Geiselman, going right, and Gouveia, headed left, crossed paths on the takeoff. Sensing a potential interference unfolding, Smith passed on joining the fray. While neither Gouveia nor Geiselman were able to turn their opening rides into significant scores, Smith was left out the back with first priority. He used it to his advantage by strong-arming the remainder of the heat through his use of priority, locking in a 9.50 along the way.
Based solely on pure surfing, raw aggression and stylish technique, John John Florence's second wave ridden in Round One, Heat 5 of the Hurley Pro at Trestles was one of the standouts of the day. Although his 9.07 was bested by Jordy Smith in the very next heat, it doesn't diminish a wave that included risk, power, technique and finesse. Florence's surfing has the rare ability to summon a guttural, animal instinct that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. It's the same rare combination that creates the incremental separation between elite-level athletes, the difference between the best in the world and those hovering at the next tier below.
Fan favorite and the surfer that Fantasy handicappers pick to win, Filipe Toledo continued to look a class above the rest in Round One. Toledo used his home-turf advantage against Europeans Leo Fioravanti and Joan Duru to grab the highest heat score of Round One, 17.60, that included an electric 9.43. "It's super special," he said, referring to competing in his adopted home town. "It's extra motivation to get a good result." With the back end of the Tour schedule playing to his strengths, a deep run at Lowers could set the stage for a dramatic late-season push toward a Championship run.
With a bright forecast predicted by Surfline for the rest of the week, Commissioner Kieren Perrow has already called the event on through Friday. Be sure to check back in tomorrow at 7:30 a.m. (PDT) for more action from the Hurley Pro Trestles and the Swatch Pro.