It is a rare occurrence in a Qualifying Series event to see two World Champions in back-to-back heats. But that was the case today as Adriano de Souza (BRA) and Gabriel Medina (BRA) thrilled the audience in the 2-3 foot waves at Praia da Joaquina for the Hang Loose Pro Contest in Florianopolis, Brazil.
Despite being on the World Tour for 11 years, this is the first time that De Souza is competing at his home-break. Living right down the beach from Joaquina, the 2015 WSL World Champion is enjoying his time immensely in front of the avid fans.
"It feels incredible to be competing at home. I've been on Tour for so many years and I've never had this opportunity before," said De Souza. "I'm just so stoked to be at this contest. I'd like to thank Alfio (Lagnado) for bringing this event back. I know it's the 30th anniversary, but I wasn't even born when it happened. Brazil doesn't have such a long tradition in surfing compared to other countries, but this event is great to show the newer generations our history."
Hang Loose was Adriano's first sponsor as an athlete and has never forgotten the opportunity that Alfio Lagnado, head of Hang Loose gave him as a youngster.
"Alfio was the first guy that believed in my abilities. I was really young, but I knew I was in good hands. I'm grateful for what he did for me at the start of my career."
Following De Souza's victory, Gabriel Medina took to the water in Heat 1 of Round 3. Looking super loose, yet with that same fiery approach to the lefts at Joaquina, Medina scored a 16.27 total to advance in first along with Soli Bailey (AUS) in 2nd place. As he left the water, hundreds of fans rushed to have their chance to take a picture or get an autograph from their idol.
"Yeah that was cool, I was watching Adriano before. It's great for Brazil to have two world champs here representing our country. The waves are really good and rippable," said Medina. "From the beach it's real pretty, but in the water you need to choose carefully. I really like this wave, you can find good rights, but the lefts are my favorite. My board feels really good and I hope conditions stay like this tomorrow.
Disregarding the fact that he was Brazil's first World Champion and extremely talented, he gave quite a philosophical response to why he thinks he's so popular.
"I don't really understand why the public likes me so much," continued Medina. "But personally, I think everyone has a mission here on Earth and God picks each one. I feel like I was chosen to surf and I'm doing what I love and that's great. I think that's why people enjoy it."
Concerning the race for qualification on the QS, a lot of moving and shaking went down on Friday. Ryan Callinan (AUS), Jesse Mendes (BRA), Bino Lopes (BRA), and Connor O'Leary (AUS) were all eliminated and have left the door open for a number of athletes to break into the top 10 in the rankings.
Ian Gouveia (BRA) took complete advantage of this fact and guaranteed a spot into Round 4 after winning Heat 8 of Round 3, advancing along with fellow Brazilian Miguel Pupo. Being a surfer that grew up right down the beach, Gouveia's local knowledge came into play in today at the QS 6,000.
"I know there's a good wave that breaks right behind the rocks, but it doesn't come that often," declared Gouveia. "I just think that I was in the right place at the right time and I opened up the heat with a good score. It was a gnarly heat and everyone was catching good waves."
Entering the event, Gouveia sat in 5th place, while Bino Lopes was in 6th. They were the highest-ranking Brazilians on the QS, but everything can change before the end of the contest.
"Yeah we've been facing each other a lot in the past few events. It's been very cat and mouse. Since Europe we've been moving up in the rankings together and each heat I make is super important," Gouveia said. "I've been surfing each heat as if it's my last because getting a good result here is the best chance I have before going to Hawaii. I'm surfing at home, it's run by my sponsor, so the ball is in my court."
Kanoa Igarashi (USA) blitzed the QS last year and is finishing off his first year on the CT. He's had a mixed bag of results and is relying on his QS points to requalify for 2017. Today however he left little doubt to his prowess by scoring a 16.50 in both heats he surfed on Friday.
"My 9-point ride was really cool," stated Igarashi. "I just surfed it the way the wave let me. I didn't try to force anything and the wave kind of did everything. I just tried to surf smooth and everything came together." When asked about his requalification, Kanoa was super candid about his situation.
"You know, everyone says that they don't think about it, but of course it's on everyone's mind. But when you're around good people, you forget about those things. As long as you're having fun, that's what's important. It's my job, but it started out as a hobby. It's more important to enjoy your time and the culture of Brazil," said the Californian. "If I requalify I'll be super stoked, but if not, I'm only 19 so it's no problem. The CT has been a big learning experience. It's like going from middle school to high school. It's a big difference going up against all these guys you grew up watching and surfing new places, so it's been an incredible experience. Hopefully I can stay on."