Filipe Toledo made his 2017 debut at the Vans US Open of Surfing Tuesday afternoon at Huntington Beach. The defending event champion, and two-time winner here, is entering this year's competition with his stock hitting an all-time high. He's the main attraction at this year's QS10,000, coming in hot off his win at the Corona Open J-Bay.
Sporting a fresh haircut (his blue-ish blonde stuff is gone) and his red superhero-like outfit, Toledo went to work against a trio of Qualifying Series hopefuls and kept yesterday's theme alive. In case you missed it, the trend in Round Two, aka the Round of 96, which will continue through tomorrow, is the Championship Tour (CT) stars are busy reminding the Qualifying Series (QS) hopefuls of just how high the barrier to CT entry is. Toledo, as you'd expect, offered one of the better examples.
While he stuck largely with his ground game on Tuesday, his cuts were clean, his timing impeccable, and his moves sharp. You'd never know he felt like he was at death's door two days ago with the stomach flu. In short order, he had a healthy 15 points in his scoring column, much to the dismay of Ian Crane, Shun Murakami and , who it should be noted, all surf really well.
But the Round of 96 is arguably the cruelest of all. With 22 of the Top 34 Championship Tour (CT) stars competing here in the Qualifying Series (QS) event, many of these heats could pass for Finals in smaller QS events. Take Heat 13, the one right after Filipe's, which featured CT rookie Connor O'Leary, freesurfing freak Mikey Wright, Hawaiian standout Torrey Meister and Spain's Gony Zubizarreta.
Wright has made it clear he wants to join his sister Tyler and brother Owen on the CT next year, and he's certainly got the talent, but what's so damn striking about the Round of 96 is just how many talented surfers are fighting for the same thing. Wright surfed well, but his wave selection was wanting, and that's an impactful mistake at this level. He was sent packing by O'Leary and Zubizarreta.
Wright arrived in Huntington Beach ranked No. 11 on the QS, which is exactly where he'd need to stay at this point if he wants to make it to the big leagues. But losing this early in one of the biggest events of the year will prove costly. He'll be lucky if he's still in the Top 20 by the time he leaves. That's the cruelty of the Qualifying Series.
Wright was hardly the only heavy casualty on Tuesday. Poor Bino Lopes may have broken his nose when he smashed into the pier during his heat. The Brazilian vet was hoping to climb out of his No. 36 slot here in Huntington. Instead, he's making a trip to the hospital.
The hard-luck stories will continue tomorrow, as this killer of a round concludes in the afternoon. There's a huge cast of CT stars on tap, too, and the vast majority of them are just as desperate for QS points at this stage of the yearlong race. In other words, the drama is just getting started.
Remaining Round Of 96 Heats
Heat 14 Keanu Asing (HAW), Yago Dora (BRA), Carlos Munos (CRI), Tom Whitaker (AUS)
Heat 15 Ian Gouveia (BRA), Michael February (ZAF), Heitor Alves (BRA), Charly Martin (FRA)
Heat 16 Ezekiel Lau (HAW), Michael Rodrigues (BRA), Beyrick De Vries (ZAF), Noe Mar McGonagle (CRI)
Heat 17 Conner Coffin (USA), Mitch Crews (AUS), Krystian Kymerson (BRA), Mateia Hiquily (PYF)
Heat 18 Jadson Andre (BRA), Tomas Hermes (BRA), Nate Yeomans (USA), Wyatt McHale (HAW)
Heat 19 Miguel Pupo (BRA), Griffin Colapinto (USA), Diego Mignot (FRA), Dusty Payne (HAW)
Heat 20 Caio Ibelli (BRA), Ramzi Boukhiam (MAR), Maxime Huscenot (FRA), Finn McGill (HAW)
Heat 21 Italo Ferreira (BRA), Patrick Gudauskas (USA), Santiago Muniz (ARG), David do Carmo (BRA)
Heat 22 Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA), Soli Bailey (AUS), Marco Giorgi (URY), Jorgann Couzinet (FRA)
Heat 23 Jesse Mendes (BRA), Tanner Gudauskas (USA), Billy Stairmand (NZL), Billy Kemper (HAW)
Heat 24 Frederico Morais (PRT), Brett Simpson (USA), Joshua Moniz (HAW), Kiron Jabour (HAW)