SATA Azores Pro by Sumol

Upsets, Breakthroughs at High-Stakes SATA Azores Pro

Praia de Santa Bárbara, Sao Miguel / Azores Islands - The SATA Azores Pro presented by Sumol resumed mid-morning in bumpy two-to-three-foot surf. The dropping tide gave organizers a seven-hour window of contestable conditions to complete one and a half rounds of competition.

Reigning European Junior Champion Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) 16, created the biggest surprise of the day when he advanced into the Quarterfinals of his first-ever Prime event, defeating Patrick Gudauskas (USA) 28 in the process.

Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) An ecstatic Fioravanti is on to the quarters - WSL / Damien Poullenot

“I'm so stoked, that was such a hard heat,” Fioravanti said. “The waves weren't that good but I told myself I had to give everything anyway. I'm on a roll at the moment, I'm just enjoying myself out there and it seems to be paying off.”

Sitting in the lineup for over half of the 30-minute exchange without surfing a wave, Fioravanti kept calm and seized the only two opportunities he was given. Catching a final wave on the buzzer, the high-flying regular-footer put it all on the line to throw a Hail Mary maneuver and take the win.

“I told myself I was going to have to be patient, Pat's such a good surfer I really needed to be on the best two waves of the heat,” the young Italian added. “I waited super long for the first one, and that last wave felt like it would never come, but thankfully I got it right before the horn.”

Defending event champion, Tomas Hermes (BRA) 27, wrapped up the day's action with a decisive win over local hero Vasco Ribeiro (PRT). The explosive lightweight surfer manage to capitalize on the challenging waves on offer to make the quarter-finals.

“Conditions have changed everyday, we've had big, medium and small waves, clean and sometimes not so, on the QS you have to be able to adapt and surf it all,” Hermes stated. “I'm prepared and feeling great so I'll take it heat by heat and see how far this takes me.”

Currently sitting in 11th position on the QS rankings, Hermes is in an ideal position to strike hard again in Azores, and will look to go back-to-back after his breakthrough victory of 2013 on Sao Miguel.

“You know every surfer wants to win every event, that's why we do this,” he added. “I'm in a good season, there's plenty of events left but I like my chances of qualifying in 2014. I'm super happy when I compete, I think that's why I win, I just enjoy myself so much doing this.”

Matt Banting (AUS) 20, displayed a great deal of maturity, controlling his first heat against Tour veteran Aritz Aranburu (ESP) 29. The young Australian got busy early on, trying to build a scoreboard, then adapted halfway through when his opponent chose to surf another peak. Utilizing his priority advantage smartly, Banting found a nice wave to score an excellent 8.33 and seal the deal.

Matt Banting ( AUS) Rankings leader Banting placed 9th in Azores - WSL / Damien Poullenot

“I just wanted to have the same opportunities as Aritz you know, so I joined him on the other peak,” Banting said. “I was so determined to get through that heat, I've just bettered my lowest result so I'm over the moon. I just woke up this morning feeling good, had a big breakfast and tried a new board for the shorey, the waves are a lot smaller today and it works amazing.”

Banting couldn't keep his rhythm in the Round of 16, placing equal 9th. With two 6-Star event wins under his belt and an excellent fifth place at a Prime, Banting is still looking very strong to join the prestigious Samsung Galaxy ASP World Championship Tour next season. He will then only reinforce an already massive lineup of Australian athletes in the Top 34, hoping he can match the level of performance.

“I've dreamt to be on the CT since I was about 5 or 6 years old, as you get closer and closer it feels unreal,” he added. “That heat this morning I felt a lot of pressure to improve my situation. There's still four big events to go, and I've already done the events in Hawaii last year. I made a few rounds there and feel comfortable so hopefully I'll do good there. The next six months I'll be trying to build my surfing stronger, more like the guys on tour at the moment.”

Banting's defeat came at the hands of New Zealand's Ricardo Christie (NZL) 25, who has been lacking consistency since his excellent start at the [Quiksilver Saquarema Prime] earlier this year.

Ricardo Christie (NZL) Christie, one of the surprise qualifiers today - WSL / Damien Poullenot

“I'm stoked to get through that heat, Matt is a tough draw in waves like that,” Christie said. “I tried to stay relaxed and do my own thing. I got a sponsor after my result in Brazil and I was stoked on that, so hopefully I can keep the ball rolling, keep having fun and make a few more.”

The next call will be Friday at 12 p.m. local time (AZOST). Up first in the water will be Maxime Huscenot (FRA) against Italo Ferreira (BRA) in Heat 5 of the Round of 16.