The Junior Pro Espinho launched this morning in heaving rights crashing over the beach's famous jetty. Sideshore winds made the overhead swell lumpy on a day that dawned gray and cold with the occasional downpour. But if you colored the skies blue and the water even bluer, the surf would have looked downright fun.
Surf can be all-time here with pumping A-framed beach peaks and peeling lefts. But the prize at Praia De Baia is the reeling righthand sand-dredging tubes off the jetty. Today was not that day. But the potential was visible, as evidenced later in the day by Kepa Housset-Ezponda's 9.0.
"There are opportunities for the big scores," said contest director Filipe Anjos of the morning call. "It's a little bit heavy but there are scoring opportunities out there. At this beach the tide is a big factor because high tide shuts down the surf. We have to asses the conditions as the tide comes up and goes down."
The judges gave the best scores to the jetty rights today. But with the current, those rides left the surfers down the beach looking at a 100 yard sprint up the beach to the paddle-out spot. It was an exhausting loop and many heats were won by the athlete with the best physical conditioning.
Event launches 2019 Junior Tour
The Junior Pro Espinho is the first event for the European Junior tour and one of only a handful of stops that factor into crowning a champion. Consequently, everyone wants their chance. Today saw 32 heats go down - yes, that translates to 11 hours of competition. Anjos admitted it was an optimistic target on a marathon day, but they made it.
"We have maximum entries in the event, so we needed to start the event right away," said Filipe. "We have to fit 128 boys and 48 girls in a five-day window, so today we had to do something. We really had to assess the conditions through the day. In the tower we always say we're here for the surfers and our job is to give the the best conditions to surf in each day. We have to work to ensure that."
Israeli contingent signal intent on Day 1
Israeli surfers Siam Nikritin and Elya Sasi advanced through their Round of 128 heats early in the day along with fellow countryman Amir Rafaeli. The Diminutive regularfoot scored one of the higher waves of the morning with a series of turns from the outer bar to the inside section.
"I got three manoeuvres, the first one was a big snap," said the Netanya local. "And then I got two off the tops and the closing manoeuvre was even bigger. But afterward I got stuck and couldn't get back out to the lineup in the last eight minutes. But fortunately the score was big enough."
Siam Nikritin advanced through his next heat by never stopping. The stylish regularfoot nailed two solid scores on rights all the way through to the inside. "The heat was good for me," said Siam. "All my focus was on this heat because I'm taking it heat by heat, like all the good surfers say in their heat interviews (laughs) and yeah, man I'm stoked to make this heat."
In all three of four Israeli surfers advanced today out of two rounds of action. "There a few Israeli kids in the event and I'm travelling with a coach and another surfer," continued Siam. "There are three of us and we're travelling together and have some coaching and, so we hope to do well and represent Israel."
We asked Elya Sasi why there are so many Israeli surfers throwing their hat in the ring this year. "First of all, it's going to be in the Olympics," said Elya Sasi. "So everyone wants to be prepared. I think that a lot of the Israeli guys have the talent and can make it through heats. Also it's a lot of fun to compete and, well, it's surfing."
The Women's Draw
The women's event closed out the day with Maria De La Pena earning the highest score of the round. The Spanish surfer nabbed a 7.33 for a big bottom turn-to-tailslide combination on a long right that earned the win in heat 3. Emma Dubès also earned a 7.33 to advance in heat 5.
Then in the final heat of the day was a nailbiter with top-notch surfing from Alicia Delgado and Concha Balsemao who took spots one and two in a heat where just over one point separated first and fourth place.
Kauli Vaast prepares to pounce
WSL Big Wave Award nominee Kauli Vaast is determined. He placed second in this event last year has been out at Praia de Baia each morning practicing.
Seeded Round 3 surfers usually don't spend the Day 1 morning standing in the cold rain surveying the scene. But Vaast's commitment this year is obvious already. You can tell he wants another junior title. Earlier today the surfer from Tahiti dissected the contorted Espinho lineup and saw gold.
"I surfed this morning over there (pointing to the jetty rights) and it's really fun," said Kauli. "But that other left, the second peak down the beach looks really good too."
On a break famed for its rights, there could be secret, unlocked potential in the lefts down the beach. But today looked nearly impossible. The paddle back out would be too time exhaustive. We'll see what the rest of the week has to offer.