Adriano de Souza doesn't need to be competing in the Vans US Open of Surfing. The reigning world champion isn't in need of Qualifying Series points for job security. In fact, after a rocky start to the 2016 season, he's quietly climbed his way back into world title contention. He's lurking in the shadows of the frontrunners, sitting well within striking distance at World No. 4 on the Jeep Leaderboard.
His motivation for being here is simple: keep the blade sharp.
It's that attitude that earned him his world championship in 2015 despite very, very long odds.
Not surprisingly, Adriano hasn't entered many of this year's contender conversations...at least not yet.
That may change if he continues his tear in Huntington. De Souza was on fire Friday. He earned the highest heat score of the day by ripping the guts out of the wedgy, shoulder-high rights breaking just off the HB Pier.
The Champ advanced into the Round of 16, joining seven other Championship Tour surfers making their mark on this QS10,000. Filipe Toledo was not far behind in the high-scoring department, which is hardly surprising given what we know he's capable of in these kinds of conditions.
The person who is surprising this week is Sebastian Zietz, a guy who's not exactly famous for being a small-wave wizard. But here's a little bit of surf trivia that might explain his tiny-wave shred-fest: Seabass was born in Florida, and spent some time there as a pre-teen too. In fact, there are a lot of native Floridians out there still trying to claim him as theirs.
Ultimately, of course, home is where the love is, and Seabass made his true love abundantly clear today with the help of a banner-waving airplane. He lured his longtime girlfriend Krisy Fulp to the end of the pier, just in time to pop the question as the plane flew by. She said yes, and Seabass walked off the pier knowing he just scored the biggest win of his life.
But when Seabass returns to the lineup he'll have his hands full with Davey Cathels in Round Five. Cathels is one of four CT rookies in the Round of 16, with Ryan Callinan, Conner Coffin and Kanoa Igarashi rounding them out.
Conner and Kanoa will meet up in Round Five, which will be a closely watched match. Igarashi knows HB better than anyone, and he's been on fire all week. But Conner is more dangerous with each added inch of wave height.
And rounding out the intriguing matches of Round Five are 17-year-old Ethan Ewing and his fellow Aussie Mitch Coleborn. Ewing's run has been the talk of the event, and he's now the highest-ranked QS competitor remaining in the competition.
Coleborn, meanwhile, is enjoying his best result of the year. While Ewing is overachieving, Coleborn entered this event barely hanging in the Top 100 on the QS. But a few more heats in an event like this will vault him well out of that No. 97 hole.
The men's QS will resume later in the morning on Saturday, after some of the Juniors action. Be sure to tune in to the WSL website and app to see how it all unfolds.