Lighter winds allowed the 2016 Azores Airlines Pro pres. by Sumol to resume today in great three-to-four foot waves at Monte Verde to whittle the field down to only sixteen men, while women athletes enjoyed another day off from competition.
Californian Patrick Gudauskas was first to clinch his ticket for Round Five with a come-from-behind victory to overtake form surfer Ian Gouveia and Hiroto Arai in the dying instants of their matchup. The powerful regular footer, currently sitting 15th on the Qualifying Series with a couple of good results under his belt, will look to advance through a few more rounds in Azores to take a step closer to re-qualification for the Elite Top34.
"I was definitely under pressure, both of these guys have been ripping and I've been watching their heats every day before mine, so I'm stoked I really wanted to make that one," he stated. "I've put my head down this year and am definitely more focused; in the years passed I've been juggling a few things, but I really want to get on tour. I love Azores, every year I leave here thinking I'm due to do well because I just love the waves so much. It's such like punchy wedges, it's one of my favorite venues all-year!"
Ramzi Boukhiam seemed completely un-phased by the degrading conditions of the afternoon and strong onshore breezes, as the Moroccan dominated the start of an all-European matchup against Marc Lacomare and Frederico Morais. With a solid 14.33 heat total built in the opening minutes of the exchange, Boukhiam was in total control until Lacomare fired up and negotiated two highly-committed backhand turns for an incredible 9.33 tying with Boukhiam for first position.
The two goofy footers engaged in a back-and-forth battle on the successive bumpy sets of lefts coming through the lineup, but were both unable to further improve their scoreboard. With an equal 14.33 heat result, first place went to Lacomare who had the highest single wave score of 9.33 against Boukhiam's 8.50. Morais' elimination in Round Four came as a huge disappointment for the Portuguese community of surf fans seeing their last representative bow out.
"Ramzi had such a great start I felt like it was pretty much a man-on-man heat between Frederico and I, so I tried to keep my composure as I knew I only really needed one good wave and a back-up in those conditions," Lacomare said. "Waves got really tricky with this wind and I completely changed options at the last moment so it wasn't easy but I'm happy I made it. At this stage of the contest everyone is capable of getting big scores, so I try to get the most out of each wave."
"Marc and I stay together most of the year and he's a good friend so it's definitely not ideal to get him in a heat but at least we both made it through," Boukhiam added. "We definitely push each other when this happens, now we're safe for the next round and if we have to surf against each other again then that's how it is. I had a good start in that heat and was pretty relaxed and then Marc just went and blew up on that right."
Visibly psyched up by his compatriot's performance in the previous heat, Maxime Huscenot decided to take his act to the next level with an innovative aerial maneuver he repeatedly tried and landed to take an important win. The alley-oop rotation combined with a front hand grab behind the heels got everyone excited on the event site as Huscenot made his way into Round Five.
"I worked on that turn all-winter at home and skipped some events in Australia specifically to develop a good new move on my forehand, I have an air and a couple big turns on lock on my backhand and was lacking something like that," he reflected. "It's something not many guys do and I find it really cool, I'm super happy to finally be able to use it in a heat. I watched Julian (Wilson) get a 10 in Ballito with that air and that really inspired me to replicate it."
As the European surfers took over the round, current leader of the QS Leonardo Fioravanti made no exception and went on to claim the day's highest heat total of 15.94 to advance into the next round in a dominant form.
Event officials will reconvene at 8:30AM Friday to decide wether conditions allow competition to restart either for the men or women surfers on the fourth day of competition in Azores.
MagicSeaWeed, official forecaster for the WSL Europe Qualifying Series events, calls for "Continuing pulses of mid period swell and generally westerly winds fresh at times. A swell we'd been tracking for this window now looks likely to arrive after the end of competition." for Wednesday.