While The Box showed signs of brilliance throughout the morning, Commissioner Kieren Perrow called men's Round 2 on at Main Break -- opting for consistency. The first elimination round got underway early in clean 6-8 foot conditions. As the Tour gets deeper into the season, World Title contenders are looking to gain ground. But today, at the Margaret River Pro, underdogs and local knowledge won out. With its throaty swell and never-ending coastline, it's no wonder that West Oz produces some of the most dynamic surfers in the game.
The damage started early when local wildcard Kael Walsh came out firing in Heat 2. Despite a lull in conditions, he was able to put up a few scores, sending Matt Wilkinson home in the early rounds -- and messing with a few Fantasy teams. The Yallingup prodigy earned a spot in the event after finishing runner-up at the Trials, taking the place of Jeremy Flores (who withdrew, for the birth of his first child). Having grown up surfing alongside Margaret River locals Taj Burrow and Jay Davies, Walsh doesn't intimidate easily. Matt Wilkinson came as a welcome challenge.
"I knew Wilkinson would be hard to beat," Walsh said. "I've known him for a while. On that last wave I thought he was going to perform and get the score. I was hoping there would be another wave out the back so I could improve on mine. Even though I'm familiar with the break, I have Jake Paterson [Quiksilver coach and former World Champ from West Oz] in my corner, which has helped with my confidence a lot."
Walsh will be needing all the confidence he can muster in the next round...where he'll be facing rankings leader Julian Wilson.
Australian Mikey Wright also survived the first elimination round of the event -- defeating Tour vet Adrian Buchan in Heat 3. Conditions slowly started to pick up as the morning progressed and Wright was able to score the first 7-point ride of the day with less than two minutes on the clock. Wright has caused some serious damage as a wildcard on the 2018 Tour, knocking out World Champ John John Florence at the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast last month.
"There were some really fun waves out there this morning," said Wright. "With waves like that you just have to find the right one and surf it for what it is. My strategy was to go out there and execute on that first wave -- get into the rhythm of things. I've been taking every heat as it comes. Just last year I put the jersey back on and started competing again. It's been a lot of fun. We'll see what the year brings. I'm just trying to mix things up and take all the experiences I can from this."
Yago Dora was another Round 2 standout, earning a 7.83 to defeat fellow rookie and friend Griffin Colapinto. Today's win marks the Brazilian's first heat win of the season -- boosting his confidence as he heads to the later rounds.
"Griffin is one of my favorite surfers on Tour so I knew I had to do my best and give it everything that I could. Having won that heat against him gives me a lot of confidence because he's a big inspiration for me. Being a rookie...he makes me want to do better."
Another Brazilian rookie, Michael Rodrigues, looked powerful in Heat 8 against Kanoa Igarashi. Rodrigues is from Florianopolis, which has allowed him to perfect his aerial game, and he's considered one of the more underrated rookies to join the Tour this year. But today, his power-carving was noticed. Rodrigues earned a 7.57 on his second scoring wave and will be moving onto Round 3, where he will face current rankings leader Italo Ferreira.
Check back tomorrow for the Margaret River Pro call and men's Round 3/women's Round 2 action at 7am AWST. You can also watch live daily on WSL and Facebook.