The World Title will be decided at the Billabong Pipe Masters in Hawaii after Brazilian Italo Ferreira defeated French surfer Joan Duru to win the MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal today. A devastating display of aerial surfing resulted in heat scores of 16.10, 16.47 and 15.93 and Ferriera was easily the day's standout performer.
"It's the best feeling ever. In my first year here I made the Final here and now I've won it," Ferreira said after his win. "Thank you Portugal. This place and this is crowd is amazing. I'm living my dream right now."
Italo's above-the-lip surfing was both pivotal in winning his third Championship Tour (CT) event of the year and ensuring that the World Title race wasn't decided today.
Earlier on that scenario looked like a distinct possibility.
When new World No. 2 Julian Wilson went down to the eventual finalist Duru in their Quarterfinal, Brazilian Gabriel Medina could have clinched his second World Title with an event win. However, when Ferreira stomped a massive rotation with just minutes to go and scored a 9.30 in their Semifinal, Medina's title hopes needed to be -- as Andy Irons once famously said to Kelly Slater -- put on ice.
Medina did however increase his lead at the top of the Jeep Leaderboard. His aerial approach in his Quarterfinal win over Matt Wilkinson was a highlight, too. A place in the Final at Pipe now guarantees him a Title. If he finishes third in Hawaii either Julian Wilson or Filipe Toledo will need a win to stop him. Any result worse than third for Medina and the two chasers will need to make a Final.
"Italo deserved that win," Medina said about his friend and competitor after their Semi. "It was always going to be an airshow and whoever did the best air was going to win. I'm happy with my performance here and all through Europe. I'll go home now and focus on Hawaii. I'm excited and I'm in a great position."
That position was hard-earned today.
All the competitors had to deal with a long wait as organizers waited for a new swell to appear. After six hold calls the green light was finally given for a 2:40pm start. By that stage the vocal crowd, which had been arriving since dawn, swelled to one of the biggest the sport has seen all year.
They also all seemed to be backing Gabriel Medina and whether that played a factor in Julian Wilson's shock Quarterfinal loss is debatable. The Australian fell on a few backside aerial moves as he desperately tried to keep himself in the race. However a heat total of 5.10 showed he never really got close to Joan Duru.
"It's been a great event and Europe has been good for me, but opportunities were extremely limited in that heat," Wilson said. "It was so soft, but we have to adapt and I tried my best. However it's still a hard one to swallow. I'll process today and it's going to hurt, but I'll learn from it. And with Gabriel's loss I'm still in the hunt at Pipe."
His victor Joan Duru is also now still in the hunt in Hawaii, not for a World Title, but to save his CT career. Coming into the event the Frenchman was rated as the World No. 33 and his year seemingly finished. A Final and 8,000 ratings points in Portugal however means he jumped 10 places to World No. 23 and just one spot below the cut line.
"I was in a bad position on the rankings, so I decided just to have fun," said Duru. "I've made some heats so it's working. I just stuck to my plan. It was an intense situation for Julian, but I just had to focus on myself. A Final here is huge, I've given myself a chance, I'm so happy."
Now though all the attention turns to Hawaii as we sort through the World Title scenarios. Three surfers can still win the World Title. Wilson is a former Pipe Master and will be confident. Medina though has made the Final twice there and a first victory would seal an incredible second World Title for him. Toledo, although a long shot, won't go without a fight.
This show is far from over.