Forecasting waves and winds is a tricky affair in most places of the world. But try doing it in the middle of the ocean with all the streams and weather patterns, and it basically becomes rocket science.
Day 2 of the Azores Airlines Pro pres. by SEAT was meant to be flat by everyone's assessment and yet, when the sun rose over Santa Barbara, punchy, two-to-three foot peaks were breaking on the pristine black sandbanks. And so competition resumed with the top seeds joining the fun in Round Two.
You know who did really well in the small, punchy beachbreak? The Brazilians. Take 27 of the lightning-fast athletes, throw them in Round Two, and you have a total dominance and a super exciting day of surfing.
It all started with Jesse Mendes, Alex Ribeiro and Yago Dora. Jesse is untouchable this season, everywhere he goes he just blasts his way through to the final rounds -- no surprise there. He's cemented in the QS top spot with over 25,000 points, which at this point in the season, with three QS10,000 still left, is pretty much unprecedented.
"Our heat was kind of slow, it often happens with the first heat of the day somehow," he reflected. "But I managed to get a couple fun ones so I'm happy. I'm on a CI board, a new model that I tried first in Japan and have been hooked on ever since. It's a shortboard with less rocker and it works incredibly well to go through the flat sections."
Then came Alex, a slightly less known surfer from Praia Grande, who spent the 2016 season on the CT. Apart from a Quarterfinals finish at Lowers, a string of 25th places made up a disappointing season and he has since been fighting back on the QS. His 2017 effort is looking pretty good right now and a result in São Miguel would definitely help.
"My epoxy board works just so well in those conditions," he explained. "I was right at home in those waves and with my magic board I was just relaxed and having a lot of fun! I'm stoked to make it through and advance with Thiago (Camarao) my good friend, he got that last wave and made the most of it so I'm happy for him too."
Third in line was Yago, who's been on a rampage from the depths of the Qualifying Series two years ago up to the top qualifying spots at the moment. His Semifinal as a wildcard in Rio only echoed what most already knew, that the goofyfoot from Florianopolis is ready for the big leagues. Yago is lethal in all sorts of conditions but his superiority only gets more obvious in a two-foot beachie, where he'll be one of the few to get airborne.
"I expected it to be a really good heat and it turned out to be!," Dora said. "I had a couple of mediocre scores at the beginning and realized I needed to step it up and do something else. Waves were kind of wedgy and fun so I went for the air. The European leg is always good to me and I love coming here to the Azores."
After a one heat relief and the victory of Ramzi Boukhiam, things went back to what we considered normal today, with another Brazilian dominating. After six consecutive seasons on the CT, Alejo Muniz failed to re-qualify last year and is left chasing the coveted QS points with the rest of them. A consistent but average first half of 2017 has Alejo sitting at No. 21 on the rankings, so he's out for blood in the Azores hoping to build on that before Cascais and Hawaii.
"I've been training very hard and had a shocker in Pantin which was very frustrating for me," he said. "So I just wanted to surf you know, no strategy I really just wanted to show what I can do. I've been surfing the same board as last week, but without the neoprene suit I feel much lighter and better in those waves."
One you wouldn't necessarily expect to thrive in waist-high surf is Willian Cardoso, and that would be a massive underestimation. Willian is a big dude, his turns displace more water than anyone else's, but he's as dynamic as it gets in the small stuff and proved it again today when he clinched the highest single-wave score of the event so far, an excellent 8.77 out of 10.
"I had a low back-up and I knew the other two guys could score at any time so I tried to stay patient and be in the right spot when finally a really good wave came at the end," he said. "I like surfing backside, I know I'm capable of getting big scores for two good turns so I enjoy those conditions. I had two poor results in California and Pantin so that was disappointing after my runner-up in South Africa, but I'm still feeling good and I hope I can make more heats here this week."
Competitors and event officials will reconvene at 7:20 a.m Thursday for what is expected to be the best day of the week. Then again, remember what we said about forecasts here?
Check out all photos, videos, results and live webcast right here.