Those that were present at the Hang Loose Pro Contest in 1986 can relate to the amount of people that turned out to watch the world's best surfers compete at Praia da Joaquina in Florianopolis. Wednesday was a national holiday in Brazil. Add on the fact that an international surf contest was taking place under sunny skies and warm weather and that equals to one of the largest crowds in the history of surfing in Santa Catarina for the 2016 WSL QS 6,000 Hang Loose Pro Contest.
Competition began with the completion of the final four heats from Round 1 before the event's top seeds hit the water for Round 2. In anticipation of Gabriel Medina's arrival for Heat 1, the crowds began hording the gates to see their idol. The 2014 WSL World Champion had the fans oohing-and-aahing after every patented forehand hack and aerial maneuver in the 3-4 foot waves at Joaquina.
"It's amazing to have so much support from the crowd," said Medina. "Surfing has been growing a lot here and that's why everyone's showing up. Now we have two World Champs and a bunch of guys that rip like Filipe (Toledo), Miguel (Pupo) and all the rest. It feels amazing to watch everyone watching us."
Medina has an extremely successful career surfing in Santa Catarina including two wins in events on the QS and a Pro Junior World Title.
"I like the waves here, Joaquina is really nice and I've already won some events here at Joaca, at Praia Mole and Praia da Vila. I just really like the vibe. Everyone is so passionate about surfing. Plus it's a small city, so I feel more comfortable here. I think that the Hang Loose Pro Contest had a really big influence on Brazilian surfing. My dad was telling me that it was the first big contest in Brazil that brought all these huge names like Occy and Tom Carroll, so it feels great to be part of history," concluded Medina.
Yago Dora (BRA) is one of the most exciting young surfers and puts out clip after clip of amazing video parts. Dora has now been focusing on his competitive surfing by mixing stylish, drawn-out turns and explosive airs. In Heat 17 of Round 2, Dora earned a 9-point ride after bashing the lip repeatedly on his backside, threw an inverted air-reverse and finished off by smashing another big turn on the inside.
"It actually looked like a really bad wave when I paddled into it, but then I saw some sections forming and I thought I'd just go for it and throw an air and it just kept opening up and was super good at the end. I was pretty stoked because nobody wanted it and I saw the potential that it had and I was able to capitalize."
Yago grew up in a vibrant surf/skate scene right down the beach and felt right at home at Joaquina.
"It feels amazing to be performing in front of such a large audience. We spend the whole year traveling all over the world and to be home for a while and compete here in front of all my friends and family feels so good."
As the Hang Loose Pro Contest winds its way through each round, qualification onto the Championship Tour is becoming a tight race as several athletes finish their heat in elation by becoming one step closer or in complete frustration after missing what might be their last opportunity this year.
Connor O'Leary (AUS) currently sits in 2nd place on the QS rankings and is pretty much guaranteed to be on the CT next year, but is still putting up a strong effort in Brazil after winning his Round 2 heat with a 15.10 total.
"I really left it for the last second there," said O'Leary. "I had priority when I let Wiggolly (Dantas) go on that wave he got a 6.83 on and in my head I thought, ‘Ok, he's going to go to first, I'm going to need a four' and I was lucky enough to catch that wave that came in and I just tried to surf it as well as I could and I got the score. I think consistency is what everybody is looking for on tour. I felt like last year I had a lot of good results, but not that break-though result. But this year I won in Ballito and I've just tried to remain consistent throughout the year."
Ian Gouveia (BRA), son of Brazilian legend Fabio Gouveia, is another local surfer from Florianopolis that is set to make it onto the CT. At the moment, Ian is in 5th place on the QS rankings and is thrilled to be competing at home in a contest organized by Hang Loose, his long-time sponsor. However, Gouveia only moved into Round 3 after an interference call jumped him from 3rd to 2nd place in his heat.
"I was pretty calm at the end, I wasn't that nervous. I knew I only had one chance to get the score and at the end a bunch of waves came in and I actually chose the wrong one, but Jorgann (Couzinet) made a mistake and I ended up in second place," said Gouveia. "It feels amazing to have the crowd behind us. We usually travel all around the world and don't really get the chance to compete in our hometown, so it's really nice to have all your friends and family supporting you. It's an important contest with a lot of points on offer, so it's the best possible situation. If I can get a good result here and qualify for the CT it would be amazing for me and my sponsor as well."