A major jump in swell greeted early risers along the bluffs of Pico do Fabril, with the long left-hand bank holding some freight train tube sections interspersed with powerful pockets. With solid, long-period west swell, a whole lot of water moving and jet ski assists brought in as a result, it was never going to be a high wave-count kind of day. Instead, positioning, good wave selection and more than a little bit of luck were the keys to unlocking Quarterfinal berths.
"I was looking at him [De Souza]," Florence said of his heat, "I was like ‘I just gotta go, just in case.' Luckily, as I got to the bottom I saw him just not get it, shove it down a little bit, and the thing was just so perfect, I was pretty happy." Florence caught a long tube that he somehow found under defending World Champion Adriano de Souza's priority in their three-man Round Four heat with Michel Bourez. Florence would end the heat with a higher total than his two opponents' combined scores, and strode straight to the Quarters.
"We walked down in the dark and actually saw some big closeout sets, and I was like, 'it might be too big today.' Then the light came out and there were some perfect lefts, this bank is amazing," said Florence.
"I'm just here having fun really. I was pretty nervous coming into this event and France, and Lowers too, I guess. Gabriel got knocked out yesterday so I'll just make as many heats as I can and hopefully win this event, that'd be amazing."
Florence's jump through to the Quarters means that he's now just a handful of heat wins away from winning the World Title in Portugal.
Jordy Smith displayed an even greater economy of wave-catching effort to secure his status as a Quarterfinalist in his Round Four clash with Stu Kennedy and Conner Coffin. He rode just two waves for the win as the tide raced out, rendering scoring opportunities ever more scarce with each set.
"I was the first one out this morning, I got the first wave. I only got one but it was a good one, so I called it a wrap," said Smith, who's World No. 3. "Then I only got two waves in my heat… so three waves in two surfs. There's a lot of excitement this morning, definitely the high tide was better, just because of the amount of rides that are makeable. Then as the tide drained out it's become like a massive rip bowl...It's solid six-foot out there with bigger sets. [I'm] into the Quarterfinals, that means a couple percent more chance of winning the contest."
If Florence makes the Final and loses against anyone other than Smith, he claims the 2016 World Title. If he wins the Final, he claims the Title, while Smith needs to win the event to still be in contention at Pipeline. Meanwhile, Kolohe Andino, who was on fire here today in Peniche -- he nailed the highest score and heat total -- is no longer in contention. Florence's advance to the Quarters puts him beyond Andino's reach.
Miguel Pupo earned a vital Quarterfinal slot after an impressive display, aiding his cause in putting some distance between himself and the pack below the re-qualification cutoff. He's the only goofyfooter left in the 12-man field and this morning, he relished the opportunity to go face-to-face with some screaming sections at Pico do Fabril, which some were comparing to Fiji, and will at least equal his fifth-place best finish so far this season.
If being right on the bubble of the cutoff (ranked 23rd pre-Portugal) is taking its toll on the Brazilian, he showed scant signs of cracking under the pressure. "Yesterday was the heat of my life against the best surfer in the world, Kelly [Slater]," said Pupo. "Today I felt more relaxed, I kinda pictured myself in the middle of a hurricane, and I was having an ice cream in the middle of it. I'm just surfing and staying calm."