Entering Round One of the EDP Billabong Pro Cascais, the third of only five QS 10,000 events on the Qualifying Series this year, 17 of 34 Championship Tour surfers had joined the fray in Portugal looking to back up their 2018 CT qualification efforts.
Of those 17 CT surfers, nearly every surfer ranked outside the top 20 is in attendance, not to mention local hero, No. 11 Frederico Morais, fellow Rookie of the Year candidate, No. 10 Connor O'Leary and No. 15 Sebastian Zietz
Noticeably absent are Jeep Leader World No. 1 Jordy Smith, No. 7 with a bullet, Filipe Toledo, and No. 12 Kolohe Andino (who won this event in 2015). All of whom were originally seeded into the preliminary draw, but have decided to drop out for one reason or another.
As windsurfers and kiteboarders whizzed past on the horizon outside the competition zone for the second day running, Deputy Commissioner Travis Logie's decision to grind through eight heats of Round One and another 24 heats of Round Two over the span of two long days has put this event well on its course.
With eight heats of Round Three now fully complete, 11 of those original 17 CT surfers are still left standing, the glaring exceptions being No. 10 O'Leary, No. 15 Zietz, No. 17 Jeremy Flores, No. 35 Josh Kerr (who's developed a disconcerting habit of waiting until the second half of his heats to open his account), No. 28 Jack Freestone and No. 27 Ian Gouveia. Of those six surfers, only O'Leary Flores and Zietz will enter the Hawaiian leg with a favorable look at re-qualification.
For the CT crew, a win in Portugal can count for more than half of the points necessary to qualify via the QS. Every CT surfer has the talent, but can they still make the tactical adjustments needed to win once again on the QS's biggest stages? That question lingers.
Over on the Qualifying Series leaderboard, the unexpected Round Two exits of QS No. 2 Yago Dora, No. 4 Michael Rodrigues and No. 8 Jorgann Couzinet from the draw has created a massive opportunity for the rest of the top 10, all of whom have survived the dreaded pitfalls of Round Two. The big question for the remaining QS grinders is who can take advantage of their opportunity to bank big points in Cascais?
Will the ever-changing moods of the North Atlantic and the shifting sandbanks of Cascais play a critical role in answering those questions? Odds are looking like they might.