The Corona Bali Protected presented by Hurley, stop No. 5 on the World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour (CT), continued today in super-clean, three-to-five (1.4 - 1.9 meter) foot surf at Keramas. Twelve heats of men's Round 3 were run-and-won in what was an incredible day of action at one of the world's most high-performance waves.
Mikey Wright, one of the event wildcards, caused yet another massive upset by eliminating current Jeep Leader -- and his fellow Australian -- Julian Wilson in an explosive battle. The first exchange saw both surfers score similar waves with tubes and crisp turns, but Wright got the nod from the judges to score a 6.60 to Wilson's 6.00. With scores in a similar range, the heat would all come down to their back-up scores. Wilson put the pressure on, netting a 5.83 to take the lead. Wright was left searching for a 5.23. In the last 90 seconds. Wright, meanwhile, pounced on a medium inside wave, unloaded three precision turns and was rewarded with a 5.67, adding another impressive upset to his collection.
"I'm really happy to be in the final 12 surfers left in the draw," Wright said. "Julian is so good out here at Keramas, it was great to be out here with him. I love this wave, so I hope I can have a few more heats out here."
The day started with another massive upset as reigning, two-time WSL Champion John John Florence was eliminated by 2018 CT Rookie Jesse Mendes in Heat 1 of Round 3. Needing a score in the dying minutes, Mendes boosted a massive, backhand air-reverse, only just hanging on to the landing and riding out to get rewarded well above the requirement. Florence had two more shots at turning the tide but was unable to snatch the lead back and was eliminated in equal 13th to add to his string of poor results in 2018. Mendes, on the other hand, progresses into Round 4 and guarantees himself his best result of his rookie year so far.
"I knew against a guys like John John I would have to go big to get the win," Mendes said. "Somehow I stuck the landing but then almost fell again and was just hanging on hoping to get up and when I finally stood up I was just like ‘thank god' -- so stoked. I feel blessed to be on this Tour and to be at this event in such a beautiful place with great people. It feels amazing to make that heat."
Elsewhere in the event, it's been hard to believe that before the Corona Bali Protected, South African Jordy Smith had not progressed past Round 3 in 2018 -- but that all changed today. He posted a near-perfect 9.43 (out of a possible 10) after he threaded a critical tube and, he unloaded some of the most devastatingly powerful turns of the event. Smith's scintillating performance was too much for Californian Conner Coffin, who was eliminated in equal-13th place.
"That was such a good wave, when you get waves like that at this level, you need to deliver or you'll kick yourself," Smith said. "If this is a World Title year for me this year, the campaign needs to start now. Round 3 has been super tough for me this year, the CT is tougher than ever, but I like it like that, it pushes me to be better. I'm happy to get through that heat, I'm not thinking too far ahead, I just want to surf my best and see where it goes."
2014 WSL Champion Gabriel Medina was in typically searing form at Keramas, absolutely dominating Heat 7 against 2018 CT Rookie Michael February. February's silky-smooth style wasn't enough to overcome the explosive backhand Medina, who posted a winning heat total of 15.70.
"The waves were slow today but they were really fun when they came so you really had to be patient," Medina said. "Even though I had a massive lead, the heat is never over until the final hooter sounds, so I knew I had to be smart with my priority and keep building on my scores. I'm having a lot of fun surfing at Keramas and can't wait for my next heat. This is such an awesome location."
In one of the best heats of 2018 so far, also in round 3, California rookie Griffin Colapinto ousted an in-form Matt Wilkinson in a down-to-the-wire thriller. Wilkinson's backhand was on point, going beyond vertical and even throwing a rodeo clown (flip) into the equation to take control of the heat. Colapinto was on the ropes and needing an excellent score to take the lead. But he stayed calm as he took off and launched a massive frontside air-reverse, landing in the white wash and riding away, posting an 8.67 to take the lead. It was yet another impressive performance for the 19-year-old, while for Wilkinson it means some solid results in the second half of the year are a must in terms of requalification.
"Since I've been here I have been trying airs like that and not sticking them which has been frustrating," Colapinto said. "I thought I may as well go for one in the contest and ended up landing the best aerial I have done since I arrived in Bali. Everyone in this event carries so much confidence and can pull out a maneuver when they need to, so I just thought it was my time to act like that. If I ever want to win a World Title one day, I have to be able to get out of a tough, high- pressure situation, and I feel like that's what I just did -- I learned a lot in that heat."
Australia's Adrian Buchan is one of the veterans on the CT and took a hard fought victory over Brasilian rookie Michael Rodrigues. The 30-minute encounter saw neither surfer give an inch, as both battled for inside position and the best waves. In the end, though, the Aussie's experience and explosive backhand attack saw him take the win and earn a spot in the next round.
"I've been coming to Bali since I was seven years old and this place has given me so much, not just as a surfer, but as a person," said Buchan. "To be able to be here and have a platform to promote awareness for protecting our oceans and beaches, but also help set up some programs to create change, makes me really proud to be here competing in the Corona Bali Protected. It's great to see the CT athletes, WSL and Corona promoting something that I'm so passionate about."
Current World No. 2 Filipe Toledo is the best chance of stealing the Jeep Leader Jersey from Wilson, after an impressive win over Keanu Asing saw him advance into Round 4. Toledo won the Tour's previous event, in Rio, and is continuing his red-hot form here in Bali with high-flying aerials and his trademark speed-carves.
"I want that Jeep Leader Jersey really bad, I haven't had it since 2015," Toledo said. "The door is open now, it's a good opportunity for me, so I just need to go to work and keep making heats. The goal from here is to stay near the top of the rankings and hopefully have a strong finish and win the World Title."
Check back tomorrow for the call at 6:30 am WITA and watch live daily on WSL.com and Facebook.