Usually Gabriel Medina drawing a wildcard is like throwing meat to a hungry lion, but when the Quiksilver Pro France gets underway, World No. 2 Medina will face Ryan Callinan in Round 1. And Callinan's no regular wildcard.
The former CT surfer got the best of Medina at last week's EDP Billabong Pro Ericeira. Taking an early lead on the world title contender in the semifinals, Callinan was able to hold on for a statement-making heat victory, which eventually propelled him to a first-place finish over World No. 9 Kanoa Igarashi.
"This is a huge stepping stone and I feel like everything's clicking for me at the moment," said Callinan. "I peaked in the final and everything was amazing. This year's been a whirlwind I don't know what's happened to me, I've never won an event before and this is my second for this season."
Prior to the contest in Ericeira, Callinan won the Ichinomiya Chiba Open in Japan back in May. Because he's the highest rated QS athlete after Ericeira, he's received a replacement wildcard into the Quiksilver Pro France. And that's where things get interesting.
"I've been watching this event basically since I started surfing," Couzinet told the WSL last week. "It's always been my dream to surf in this event and get barreled. I'm on the beach every year or watching online, and I actually have goose bumps just thinking I'm going to be in the event."
Not only do Couzinet and Callinan both have the opportunity to be a bump in the road in the world title race, as well as log some valuable, high-pressure CT experience, but they've got their eyes on a bigger prize: qualifying for the 2019 Championship Tour.
With only two QS 10,000 contests left on the 2018 schedule, both surfers have made strong cases for graduating to the CT next year. Callinan's in a great spot, sitting 2nd behind Igarashi with over 19,000 points. That should be enough to get him in regardless of what happens at the upcoming Vans Triple Crown of Surfing in Hawaii.
Sitting in 8th, Couzinet still has some work to do, but is certainly in the conversation. Falling in Round 4 in Ericeira to Ethan Ewing and Joan Duru, he was hoping for more out of his run in Portugal, but will get a shot at the number one ranked surfer in the world when the Quik Pro eventually gets underway.
"Unfortunately, I'll have to put the champagne on ice for now," Couzinet said about his performance at the QS 10,000. "I would have loved to make a couple more heats here in Portugal and make it official, but I'll fight my way into it in Hawaii."
The Vans Triple Crown is only about a month away, and Couzinet and Callinan aren't the only QS grinders eager to punch their ticket for 2019's big dance. Currently ranked 4th on the QS with 17,750 points, one has to figure that Hawaiian surf fans will be out in force to support 20-year-old Seth Moniz's Triple Crown campaign.
"I've definitely been thinking about it a lot," said Moniz after posting a 5th-place finish at the Vans US Open of Surfing - Men's QS. "I've been setting small goals and working towards accomplishing those, heat by heat. It's a long season and you can't get ahead of yourself."
Stacked up on the QS ratings behind Moniz is a trio of Brazilians. Fifth-ranked Peterson Crisanto only sits 100 points behind Moniz. Deivid Silva and Jadson Andre are in 6th and 7th, respectively, and will probably need to get results in the Vans Triple Crown to get over the qualification hump.
Former CT surfers Ewing and Alejo Muniz currently round out the Top 10 on the QS heading into the Hawaii leg. For Muniz, it's a situation he's all too familiar with.
"You're always thinking about qualification," said Muniz at the start of last year's Triple Crown, "After my injury and all I've been through, if it happens I'll be very happy, but if it doesn't I'll be training more for next year."
It didn't happen for him in 2017, but healthy and surfing well, Muniz has had a good run on the QS in 2018 and could finally put his years of experience to good use and rejoin the Championship Tour next year.
Same goes for Ewing. He was only 17-years-old when he qualified for the tour in 2017. He fell off after a year, but has been battling on the QS all year. Now, older, wiser and boasting more power in his turns, he needs to stand tall in Hawaii to get back to where he belongs.
So while the world title race between Toledo and Medina gets the spotlight for now, there's a lot of moving and shaking going on below the surface that could have real consequences when we're having a similar conversation at about all this time next year.