Only the final six heats of Round 2 were completed yesterday at the MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal after a dropping swell and variable winds made conditions at Supetubos marginal. It might not have been pretty, but it sure was serious. For many of the surfers who competed this afternoon a heat win could mean the difference between requalification or relegation on the Championship Tour.
“It’s been a long year and maintaining energy isn’t easy,” said Jeremy Flores after defeating Michael February. “So it’s like, ‘Right lets focus, lets do this, this is a job, the waves might not be great, but there’s still a lot on the line.'” February would agree. His 25th place finish in Portugal means he will now return to the QS in 2019.
Of all those on the bubble though it was Joan Duru who can be considered the luckiest after his opponent Adriano de Souza injured his knee in a warm-up freesurf. The Brazilian bravely paddled out for the heat, but was forced to withdraw within ten minutes. That left the Frenchman to surf the remainder of the heat, rather bizarrely, on his own.
For Matt Wilkinson the battle wasn’t so much with his opponent Sebastian Zietz, but with the conditions. “Yesterday we thought that once the tide got lower it would start barreling, but then the tide got too low and it was just a straight closeout,” Wilkinson said. “So then we thought, ‘Okay today the tide is going to be a bit higher so it’s going to be good, but then we got down here and it was barely breaking. I don’t know what’s going on. You just have to go with it.” Wilkinson prevailed late in the heat to keep his CT hopes alive.
Pat Gudauskas was one of the better examples of a surfer just going with it. Up against his San Clemente prodigy and European traveling partner Griffin Colapinto, Gudauskas provided one of the day’s few real sparks with a completed Rodeo maneuver in the opening minutes of the heat.
“I was thinking about qualification after Bells and it all went down hill pretty quickly after that,” the Californian admitted afterwards. “I’m trying to focus on my performance and staying in the zone. And I pulled a rodeo so that’s a great heat. I’m stoked.”
It was the last heat of the day though that was perhaps the most compelling. Local hope and World No. 22 Frederico Morais was up against World No. 23 Yago Dora. With the top 22 surfers qualifying for the 2019 CT their battle neatly crystallized the battle of requalification verse relegation.
The huge crowd had stayed on the beach through the persistent drizzle and Morais did well to keep the them involved. He stayed busy and eventually winning a tight heat of contrasting styles that went down to the last 20 seconds. The win guaranteed him a minimum of 1240 more ratings points than the Brazilian. It might not sound like much, but that could easily be the difference between requalification or relegation.
“Wearing this flag on my shoulder and having this support on the beach is amazing,” said Morais on the beach, surrounded by his fans. “I’m in a tough spot right now being rated 22, so this was a huge heat in difficult conditions. Yago and I had a tough battle last week in France in the same Round, but I got through this one. Now it’s time to focus on Round 3.”