A packed crowd filled the beach at Maresias to watch local surfer and current World Championship Tour (WCT) rankings leader Gabriel Medina (BRA) on opening day of the O'Neill SP Prime presented by Guarana Antarctica. Medina was able to lock in two solid backside air reverses, but Italo Ferreira (BRA) stole the spotlight when he earned a 9.53, the day's highest single-wave score. Ferreira quickly backed up his score with an eight-point ride to take first place over Medina, Kiron Jabour (HAW) and Magno Pacheco (BRA).
"It feels great to win that heat," said Ferreira, who is coming fresh off of a runner-up finish at the World Junior Championship in Portugal. "It was tough because Medina, Kiron and Magno know this wave really well. The conditions improved a lot in the afternoon and the wind was perfect for those kinds of airs, so I stuck to the rights and tried to land a big one. I knew I had to go for something big to beat Gabriel. But this is just the beginning of the event and I still need another solid result to guarantee my spot onto the WCT."
The excitement remained focused on the potential of having a Brazilian World Champ, however, and, after netting a heat total of 14.86, Medina spent an extended amount of time signing autographs and taking pictures with fans.
"Italo landed some nice airs," said Medina. "But the important thing is that I made it to the next round and I'm stoked that I'm through."
Medina has led the WCT rankings for most of the year and he now has the opportunity to become the first Brazilian to win the Title. However, standing in his way are Kelly Slater (USA) and Mick Fanning (AUS) who both have ample experience in Title races and at the season's final event, the Billabong Pipe Masters.
"I'm not really thinking about Hawaii," continued Medina. "Right now my focus is on this event. I haven't competed here in Maresias since 2010, so I'd love to get a good result here. After I'm done here, I'll fly to Hawaii to begin some special training before the last WCT event of the year. I'm anxious to get this rolling, but I'm also confident that I can do well at Pipe."
Another surfer who brought the crowd to its feet with his aerial performance was Julian Wilson (AUS). Wilson finished with a two-wave combined score of 18.16, the highest heat total of Day 1.
"Right now I'm still qualified on the WCT, but there's this event and then two in Hawaii," Wilson said. "It's kind of tough to get a good result there, so I just wanted to come here, catch some fun waves and then head to Hawaii for the rest of the year. I'm doing all I can now and I'm still in, but I'm not safe."
A major upset occurred when ASP Qualification Series (QS) rankings leader Jadson Andre (BRA) was eliminated from competition. Matt Banting (AUS) and Wiggolly Dantas (BRA), who both made it into Round 2 of the competition, now threaten his lead.
A total of 15 WCT surfers are at the O'Neill SP Prime in Maresias fighting for crucial ranking points and a chance to maintain their place in the Top 34. Brett Simpson (USA) has had a difficult year on the World Tour, but displayed his tenacious competitive edge by claiming a victory in Heat 10 of Round 1.
"The waves have picked up a bit and they're sometimes a little shifty, but there's a little right that has a reform in it, so that's what I was looking for," Simpson said.
"You've got to keep an open mind and not be too picky, though, at a place like this. I'm doing okay on the QS, but I need another good result, so I'm looking to do that here to take a little pressure off in Hawaii. I'm physically surfing well and I've just got to chip away at it."
In regards to the Title, Simpson added, "I still feel like Gabriel's got the advantage. He has to make less heats and he's proven that he's pretty good out at Pipeline. Kelly's a long shot and Mick's got a chance, but I think Gabriel's got it."
A call is set for 7:00 a.m. (local time) on to assess conditions for a possible 7:30 a.m. start. Catch all the action LIVE once competition resumes.