Gone are the days when wildcards were considered easy heat wins on the Championship Tour. The 2016 season in particular has seen some massive upsets from low-seed surfers with nothing to lose.
During the Hurley Pro, California natives Brett Simpson and Tanner Gudauskas cleaned house at Trestles, taking down Jeep leader John John Florence and World No. 2 Gabriel Medina on their way to respective Quarter and Semifinal appearances. And then there was the young Italian warrior Leo Fioravanti, who knocked out 11x World Champ Kelly Slater twice this year in Round Two as a wildcard in the Margaret River Pro, and more recently, the Quiksilver Pro France. Now, the Top 34 are headed to Portugal, and they have reason to be worried.
Enter 2016 MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal wildcard, Frederico Morais. The Portuguese native is the highest ranked surfer in the country, and earned a spot to compete at home on the CT stage for the second year in a row. Sitting at No. 38 on the Qualify Series rankings, he's pretty much out of the running for a slot on the 2017 Championship Tour (only the Top 10 QS surfers qualify). But recent history shows he's more than capable of competing on the elite level.
Last year, the local boy made a Quarterfinal appearance at the Rip Curl Pro Portugal, which included an impressive Round Three win over 3x World Champ Mick Fanning. Armed with local knowledge and a sturdy 6'1 178-pound frame, Morais thrived in the powerful Supertubos sandbars. Frederico's big upset ultimately ended up impacting Mick's World Title hopes in Hawaii, where he finished the season one spot behind current World Champ Adriano de Souza.
This year, Morais has the potential to shake things up yet again. His Round One targets include former World Champ and 2016 World Title contender Gabriel Medina, as well as California rookie Conner Coffin, who is hunting last minute points for 2017 re-qualification. A Round One win for the wildcard would relegate Coffin and Medina to Round Two, where a potential 25th place result could crush their dreams.
Wildcards are dangerous because they don't care about the logistics. All Morais needs to focus on is snagging CT scalps at Supertubos in front of his home crowd. Everything else is bonus. Surf fans from Peniche and beyond will be out in droves to support their local hero. Expect the sand to shake when the Morais hits the water.
Tune in October 18 for the start of the MEO Rip Curl Pro.