In the men's draw France's Becret and Afonso Antunes were the in-form surfers throughout the entire event. Fortunately they made their runs through opposite sides of the draw to meet in a dramatic final.
Semifinal paddle battles and lulls
In men's Semifinal 1 Kauli Vaast opened up with a mid-range score which Becret answered back with a 6.17. The heat sat quiet for a full 15 minutes until a set rolled through with Becret on the first wave and Kauli on the next. Kauli nailed two backhand gouges for the heat's highest single wave score, a 6.83, and seeing Becret paddling back out kicked out quick to engage Becret in a paddle battle for priority. Cheers erupted on the beach as the two surfers scratched elbow-to-elbow to be the first one out the back.
"I saw that Kauli pulled out of his wave early," said Becret. "I realized what was happening and I was trailing him and just gave it everything I could. It was really intense paddling against him like that. Having priority in a man-on-heat is really important. It gave me the advantage because he had to chase the smaller waves."
The duo moved down the beach to the lefts with Kauli taking one off the outside that allowed him a few mid-range turns before the wave backed off and died. The Tahitian needed a 3.85 to advance and received a 3.0. And just like that Becret took another step toward his win.
In Semifinal 2 Afonso continued his form with the highest heat total of the semifinals, stopping Selyann Zouhir dark horse run through the event. The Portuguese surfer notched a 6.33 and an 8.00 to leave the Moroccan in combo-land halfway through the heat.
"At the beginning I was nervous because there were no waves," said Antunes. "Then I saw that Selyann was waiting for a long time, and when someone sits for that long they get nervous. And he wanted to get a wave really fast and I waited and got the 8.00 and was praying that Selyann didn't get a good one."
Becret's calculated strategy against Antunes' passionate approach
During the fledgling days of European professional surfing, Afonso Antunes' father Joao Antunes won the event here at Espinho. In that final in 1992 the elder Antunes ousted British surfer Spencer Hargraves to claim the win. Today, Afonso wanted to join his old man as a victor at Praia de Baia.
The France vs. Portugal final saw the two regularfoots battle in the set rights off the jetty. Both surfers started the heat with radical, but conservative surfing, trading the lead back and forth. Then Justin Becret threw caution to the wind with a giant air-reverse in the worst part of the wave possible, landing in the flats and somehow sticking it for a 9.67.
Hot on the Frenchman's heels, Antunes threw one of the smoothest, highest airs of the event but failed to land it. A short time later he secured a 7.67 for a single-maneuver air to get him out of combo land. In the dying seconds Afonso tossed up an air for a 6.66 which was not enough to overcome Becret's calculated wizardry.
"Last year I came really really close to the European title, and then lost it in the last event," said Becret. "So I have a knot in my throat since losing it like that. So I hope this year I can realise my dreams and do what I set out to do."
The crowd favourite throughout the event and the only surfer to earn a 10 this year at Espinho, Antunes is looking forward to the European Junior Tour.
"My plans for this year are to have fun and have a chance to hang out with friends and make some new friends. And now with this result I'm gonna focus on winning a title at the end of the year."
Solid surfing the standard for semifinals
Women's semifinal number 1 was a seesaw battle between powerful regularfoot Rachel Presti and lanky goofyfoot Ainhoa Leiceaga. Presti's approach fit the bumpy rights and she produced some solid turns for the highest heat total of the women's semis, a 12.27.
"My strategy was to get a good one right off the bat and then back it up real fast with another one," said the German surfer by way of Florida. "But I took a really bad wave at first and my plan didn't go as it was supposed to so I was just trying to catch a couple waves under priority and get a good score."
Her strategy paid off with a 7.00 rewarded for powerful hook. "At the end I wanted to get a big set and do a big turn and that's what I did. It worked for me."
"It was really hard to get good waves," said Turner. "I tried to stay in a bit and just get a couple mid-range scores and just about managed it but it was super tough conditions and really hard to get the good waves."
Presti edges out Turner in tight final
Scores mounted in the women's final compared to the earlier girls' heats. Turner worked her crisp snap through two solid waves while Presti's powerful carve boosted her postings. The UK surfer took the lead early with a 6.0s for a series of quick turns. Then Presti turned on her torque and secured the next two scores, a 5.93 and a 6.23. On Ellie's last ride she needed a 6.14, but only managed a 5.57, handing the victory to Presti.
Presti said she was super stoked with the win, but doesn't plan on competing in all the European Pro Junior events.
"I'm hoping to win a couple QS events and finish Top 20 on the QS. I just want to practice and get experience and get my confidence up and get in the routine of doing heats. Just like anything, the more practice the better."