"It was really lazy and broken up this morning and then the tide turned and suddenly it felt like a whole new day," Ace Buchan said after putting on a stellar performance on Day 2 of the Corona Bali Protected. "This coast of Bali is notorious for that. I've spent enough time here to know, but it still surprises me every time."
Competition Director Kieren Perrow played a hurry-up-and-wait game at Keramas all day, before eventually calling both the Men's and Women's Elimination Rounds on at 3.30pm local time. That gave just enough light to run the six tense heats in glassy Keramas before the sun set.
Buchan, 36, defied both age and injury to put in one of the most electrifying performances of the afternoon. The second-longest serving CT member after Kelly Slater was up against tour rookies Seth Moniz and Soli Bailey.
Buchan had torn a medial ligament in his knee prior to the start of the season and surfed with a chunky knee brace. His best wave, which featured a huge airdrop floater which sped into a trademark vertical backhand reentry, showed the veteran is still a force.
"The knee brace is there for protection. It feels strong and that was my first heat this year that I have put in a solid performance," Buchan said. "I was frustrated after the first round, so I wanted to get out there and sink my teeth in. The encouraging thing is on both my waves there was room for improvement."
Both rookies put up a strong fight against Buchan with Seth Moniz riding the best barrel of the competition so far. The pair's best waves both scored a 7.33 and the comparison between the veteran's tight backhand arcs in the pocket and the Hawaiian's behind-the-curtain positioning was the day's highlight. Bailey surfed well, but was left needing a backup wave. He now leaves Bali with one of the four 33rd placings.
"In the old days of the top 44 the 33rd place was called a dirty turd," laughed WSL commentator Ronnie Blakey. "Not only because it rhymed, but because no one wanted to take one home from an event."
With this year's format change leaving even fewer surfers sharing that last place, the nickname still rings true. The Elimination Round is perhaps the most fraught stage of the event for the competitors surfing. It is said winning is everything in sport, but in this afternoon's heats it was all about not losing.
"That's the most nervous I've been in a heat for a long while," said Ryan Callinan, after he won a wave-starved heat over Jesse Mendes and Seabass. "To be in the position for one of those four elimination spots, well it really got to me. The Elimination Round is brutal."
It was a common theme as even the most experienced surfers dealt with the possibility of their event suddenly coming to an abrupt end. While the lack of points and prize money hurts the most, the loss of the chance to surf Keramas with just two surfers in the lineup is another sting in the tail.
"It's my first time in that Elimination Round, so it was nerve racking," said Carissa Moore after taking out Paige Hareb and Wildcard Kailani Johnson. "Anything can happen out here. The wave is more tricky than it looks on the screen so getting through is a massive relief. I'm stoked to be through and want to build from here."
The last word however should go to Buchan. The Avoca goofy-footer not only dealt with the pressure of the dreaded 33rd place, but overcome injury and blazing new talent to progress to the Round of 32.
"Every year there's a new group of guys that are eager and more talented than the last," he said. "That's what keeps me inspired. On this Tour you have to reinvent yourself. Being in the Elimination Round isn't ideal, but it's a chance to show that you're a competitor. And that what's I see myself as."
Notables and Quotables from Day 2 at Keramas
-Silvana Lima returned from a 2018 knee injury and immediately set about showing what the surfing world has been missing with a dynamic display in the water. "Sitting out for almost a season really gave me an appreciation for how lucky I am to do this job that I love," the veteran Brazilian said after winning her heat. "To be surfing with all of the best surfers means I'm really lucky. It feels really great to be back."
-Kanoa Igarashi's heat total of 14.60 was the day's highest. "As soon as I got a decent start I knew I was on and I just had to let the heat happen," Igarashi said. "I definitely felt like I was building each wave and I could just give it a little bit more and a little bit more." The Japanese surfer will now face rookie Peterson Crisanto in the Round of 32.