Highlights: High Stakes in São Paulo
Highlights from the first 9 heats of the Round of 96.

As the third-to-last major Qualifying Series (QS) contest of the year, the Oi HD São Paulo Open will make or break the chances of many surfers who are trying to qualify for the 2016 Championship Tour (CT). Each year, the top 10 QS surfers not already on the CT get bumped up to the elite Tour -- essentially the big leagues of professional surfing.

As the end of the season gets closer the points race gets more intense, making the São Paulo Open that much more important. While there are two more QS 10,000 events in Hawaii, the Hawaiian Pro and the Vans World Cup -- parts 1 and 2 of the Triple Crown -- they're usually dominated by surfers who are currently on the elite Tour, and some top Hawaiians.

final Kanoa Igarashi's victory at the Mahalo Surf Eco Festival saw him take one step closer to qualifying for the 2016 Championship Tour. - WSL

There have already been some changes on the men's QS rankings in recent weeks, following two back-to-back QS events in Brazil that were each worth 6,000 points. First there was the Red Nose Pro15 Florianópolis SC, in Santa Catarina, then the Mahalo Eco Surf Festival in Bahia. Some surfers have soared up the rankings, while others have stalled in their current positions.

Kanoa Igarashi (USA) won the Mahalo event and jumped only from sixth to fifth, though he added 5,000 points to his total and is now in what will likely be the safe zone to qualify.

Others who moved into great spots include Connor O'Leary (AUS), who came in runner-up at the Mahalo contest, went from No. 22 to No. 8 and is now only about 1,000 points from being in a possible qualification place. Ryan Callinan (AUS), with his third-place finish at Mahalo, moved to No. 7 with 18,200 points. But was eliminated on opening day of the São Paulo Open, putting his position in the Top 10 in jeopardy. Also in danger is Stuart Kennedy (AUS), currently the cutoff man for 2016, who was also eliminated in Day 1 of the Oi HD São Paulo Open.

Every season, the CT takes the top 10 surfers from the QS who haven't already qualified for the elite Tour with their elite Tour points. So some surfers who are already on the elite CT but are ranked below No. 22 there can try to qualify with QS events and points. Some, like Filipe Toledo (BRA), are well above the CT cutoff, and don't need their QS spot. Their spot then goes to the next-highest ranked surfer on the QS rankings.

With Toledo (CT No. 2, QS No. 11) as well as Jeremy Flores (FRA) (CT No. 8, QS No. 9) likely to requalify with their points on the CT's Jeep Leaderboard, the current cutoff is with QS No. 12 Stuart Kennedy (AUS), who has 16,150 points. Here is the current Top 12:

Alejo Muniz (BRA) was eliminated in Round 5. Alejo Muniz, seen here competing at last year's event in São Paulo, is in what should be the 'safe zone' for a 2016 spot on the Championship Tour. - WSL

No. 1 Kolohe Andino (USA) 27,660
No. 2 Caio Ibelli (BRA) 24,250
No. 3 Jack Freestone (AUS) 24,100
No. 4 Alejo Muniz (BRA) 23,450
No. 5 Kanoa Igarashi (USA) 23,350
No. 6 Alex Ribeiro (BRA) 21,500
No. 7 Ryan Callinan (AUS) 18,200
No. 8 Connor O'Leary (AUS) 17,150
No. 9 Jeremy Flores (FRA) 17,000
No. 10 Miguel Pupo (BRA) 16,700
No. 11 Filipe Toledo (BRA) 16,500
No. 12 Stuart Kennedy (AUS) 16,150

Surfers ranked between 13th (Adam Melling (AUS)) and 20th (Connor Coffin (USA)) are all about 1,500 points off the cut and they are all carrying low scores from 550 to 2,200. To make up the difference they'll need to place ninth or above in São Paulo. Unfortunately, that will only just catch them up to the others, so in reality a Semifinal finish or an event win at São Paulo is needed. It's an extremely tight finish.

Watch the Oi HD São Paulo Open through November 8 live on worldsurfleague.com and the WSL app.

About Al Hunt:
Al Hunt is a former competitor who has helped develop the WSL since its inception. Hunt was Head Judge in 1983, the WSL's first year, and became Tour Manager in 1984. He has worked as WSL Tour Manager since then, attending more than 1,000 events. Hunt's Situation Room is designed to keep fans informed on QS rankings shifts throughout the 2015 WSL season.

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