Jesse Mendes has been waiting for this, and to think it almost never came.
"I nearly gave up," the misty-eyed Brazilian said as his victory soaked in, reflecting on the many struggles he's endured competing on the meat grinder that is the Qualifying Series. Mendes was telling friends he was ready to give up on competitive surfing, and then this happened.
"I'm back!" He screamed up on the podium.
The Final match was an air game vs. rail game affair, with the high-flying Mendes emerging victorious over the veteran and European legend Jeremy Flores in small and wind-chopped conditions at Guincho. The victory shot Mendes 34 spots up the QS ladder, from No. 44 to No. 10, giving him a solid chance of qualifying for the 2017 Championship Tour.
In the Finals, Flores continued his powerful workhorse rail game that he had stuck to with great success throughout the event, but the innovative display Mendes unleashed nudged him into the lead in the second half, and he was able to hold it until the final siren.
Mendes' game plan throughout the event had been one of giant, all-out airs, including a 10-point full-forehand rotation in his Round Five heat against Yago Dora. In the final, deteriorating conditions meant fewer opportunities to take flight, so he opted for big forehand snaps and rail-gouges to get past Flores, and earn his first QS 10,000 win.
A very emotional Mendes spoke post-final of his trials and tribulations, of how he had come so close to giving up, but how this one win made it all worth the incredible effort. After thanking his support team, including his mom and his girlfriend Tatiana Weston-Webb, he sent an emotional thank-you in his native tongue to friends and family back home in Brazil.
In the early morning and in clean three-foot but average conditions, commissioner Logie sent the quarterfinalists into the water, with the word that he would assess the conditions after the quarters, to make a decision as to whether we would crown a champ. It turned out he did assess, and we did crown a champ.
Along the way Joan Duru finally bowed out and lost the chance of being crowned event champ, but he's not too fussed because he will most likely be crowned as a Championship Tour surfer in 2017 as he climbs one spot on the QS rankings from 4th to 3rd. Although he lost to high-flying Jesse Mendes, he's in the pound seat, and he's been awarded a wildcard into the Quiksilver Pro France, set to take place next week. He's still full of smiles.
Ryan Callinan had been doing great throughout the event as well, and has been a big part of the conversation but opportunities only come once. In the last minute of his quarterfinal heat against Bino Lopes there was a bit of a priority shuffle, and Bino needed to take off on a wave to keep Ryan off. That left the Australian goofy-footer out at backline by himself, and right on cue a good-looking wave appeared in front of him. He took off, a little bit of a pump for speed, followed by a nice power turn off the top.
The wave stayed open for fresh moves and his second turn started off looking solid and then morphed into a total bog. He lost speed, he lost flow, the wave peeled away without him in the pocket, and the heat was lost on that single bog. The waves had some bumps and chops on them, and Callinan was on the wrong side of the chop on the turn. No shame, the man has done well, and is now in the top ten on the QS ratings.
The heat that everyone had been waiting for was the Tanner Gudauskas quarter against Ian Gouveia. There was no holding Tanner back from the get-go. A very quick opening left-hander followed by a massive and dynamic right-hander with some savage backhand cracks, and the goofy-footer was sitting with 16.67 on the score with 20 minutes to go, and with Gouveia deep into a combination situation.
It looked like there was no way he was going to lose his spot in the semifinal. It seemed like it was his destiny to get a final berth, and maybe a win. Until Gouveia took off on a choppy little left, pumped up some speed and went into a gnarly frontside full rotation grab-rail air for a 9.51 single-turn score and the win. It's almost like a formula exploited by both Mendes and Gouveia throughout the week. Go for one huge air, tweak it, ride it out cleanly and get the highest scores of the event. Gudauskas was still stoked and all smiles after one of his best QS results, not to mention a big jump in the rankings.
Speaking of Ian Gouveia, he was trailing by a long shot in his semi after Jeremy Flores had banked a 9 and a 7 for some solid and powerful rail performances. There was expectation on him following the formula, and follow it he did. Gouveia went into one more massive, alley-oop move, scored a worthy 9.67, but it wasn't enough. Rail surfing conquered air in this heat.
As expected, with this being the third QS10000 event of the season, the QS rankings were heavily shaken. There was a major reshuffle, with many surfers making a run for it in their bids for requalification.
Mendes jumps from 44th to 10th, Jeremy Flores goes from 18th to 6th, Ian Gouveia goes from 9th to 4th, Bino Lopes from 10th to 5th, and Tanner Gudauskas goes from 31st to 16th. Congratulations to all.