Stop No. 6 of 7 in the European Qualifying Series, the QS10,000 SATA Azores Pro launched in wind-affected, three-to-five foot surf at Santa Barbara on São Miguel (an island that is part of the Azores archipelago, off the the coast of Portugal). Tough conditions cleaned up towards the end of the day and allowed 22 heats of the opening round of competition.
Noe Mar McGonagle (CRI) 19, was the only surfer on Day 1 to crack the 9-point range with a combination of two big turns on his backhand. Having already posted two excellent rides and solidly in pole position, the young Costa Rican let lose and pushed his turns to the next level.
"I didn't really know what to expect, the last two months I just took off after the US Open and I've been freesurfing and training," McGonagle said. "So I was a little nervous before my heat, and that was definitely a tough one, so I'm stoked to get those two good scores and move on to round 2. It's hard to find the right waves, but my friend and travel partner Carlos Munoz sat in the same spot, we kind of worked it out, and it was a successful choice for both him and I."
Frederico Morais (PRT), 23, put on a solid display of powersurfing on the wind-affected peaks of Santa Barbara. Morais led the Portuguese pack of which Marlon Lipke, Pedro Henrique, and Jose Ferreira will be featured when the event resumes.
"It was a really good heat, I had fun!," Morais said. "I found myself in the right spot during the heat and found that wave where I could fit three good turns. I'm not in my best season so far but we're just halfway through and there are a lot of contests remaining including two in Portugal so I'll focus on making a few heats here and a few more next week in Cascais."
World No.12 Wigolly Dantas (BRA), 25, led his opening Azorean matchup for the most part of the 30-minute exchange before powerful Hawaiian Ezekiel Lau overtook him in the final minutes. Fresh off an excellent fifth-place finish at the Hurley Pro at Trestles, Dantas looked relaxed and confident in the peaky beachbreak of Santa Barbara and will look to put on another solid performance when the event resumes.
"The CTs are very different from the QS events, but I've been having a great time traveling with my brothers, my coach and my girlfriend," Dantas said. "I've been learning a lot at every event and every heat, with the Brazilians on Tour we're all pushing each other and pushing the limits. Coming in here it's another story, these are very hard events with 100 guys who surf really good, but it's fun to surf with everyone and keep the training and momentum going."
Connor O'Leary (AUS), 21, found the gems in a bumpy lineup to collect solid scores and obtain his ticket for Round 2. The Australian stood apart from the crowd in a four-man heat where his opponents were all within a point of each other.
"I was watching the heat before mine with Pedro Henrique and he got a good score on two turns on a right so I decided to stick to the rights," O'Leary explained. "I think the rights are a bit better, especially on your backhand, maybe a bit steeper and easier to hit. It's a pretty challenging wave cause it's so peaky and has got a lot of punch to it, so you can get confused about what to do with it."
Caio Ibelli (BRA), 21, is the event's highest-ranked QS surfer (at No. 6), opened his campaign with excellent surfing and the according scores, to advance into the second round. He's made the Semifinals in two QS10,000-level events this season already, Ibelli is looking strong in the race for the qualifying spots on the Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour next year.
"I was a little worried about my boards cause I was riding different boards when it was really big yesterday," Ibelli said. "But the first wave I caught was really good and paddling back out I got an even better one so it was fun and I enjoyed the heat. I've been coming here for three or four years, and every time I got to improve something and learn more about the wave. I've been training a lot and working on surfboards that make me surf better so I hope I can keep my momentum going and qualify at the end of the year."
Event officials and surfers will reconvene at 8AM on Wednesday to re-assess conditions and decide if they allow the event restart.