Filipe Toledo’s Round 3 loss yesterday has put the 2018 WSL Title Race in play for the business end in Portugal with frontrunner Gabriel Medina (BRA) able to clinch with a victory and Australian challenger Julian Wilson able to halt with a Semifinals berth. Medina, who had Brazilian soccer star Neymar Jr. in his corner today at Peniche, was the day’s standout.
In an intense Round 3 victory over the inform Ryan Callinan and then a dominant Round 4 win, Medina put in a composed and ominous display. “Gabe’s like a boa constrictor. He’ll get two waves and sit on you. You can’t breathe and you can’t escape,” said Mick Fanning. Today he took a further stranglehold on the Title.
“It’s good to have Neymar here, he’s a good friend. We are fighting for the same thing; to be the best in our sport and to represent Brazil,” said Medina. “The weeks training, the days surfing in the cold, it can be boring, but now all that dedication is paying off and it feels amazing.” Medina can take the Title here in Portugal, but only if he wins and Julian Wilson fails to make the Semifinals.
Wilson too was solid in his Round 3 heat using his tuberiding skills rather than his aerial wizardry to outpoint Ian Gouveia. One long draining right that netted an 8.67 was one of the day’s highest individual wave scores.
“I’m excited to see these waves. It hasn’t delivered the last two days, but now it’s shining,” said Wilson. “This is what we came here for. I feel in synch and I’ll just concentrate on dealing with the ocean. Everything else should look after itself.” Wilson’s Round 4 heat was called off due to deteriorating conditions meaning he needs two heat wins to at least take the race to Pipe. If he wins four, he’ll blow it wide open.
Medina and Wilson’s confidence contrasted to Filipe Toledo’s. The Brazilian had to win his Round 3 heat against Joan Duru to ensure that the World Title couldn’t end in Portugal. He was two minutes away from that until the Frenchman’s last wave secured him an upset victory. Duru would also log a win later in his Round 4 heat to keep his CT qualification hopes alive.
The day had dawned with a noticeable increase in the swell and strong offshore winds. That meant Supertubos was living up to its name and so Commissioner Travis Logie signaled a green light when the first rays hit the lineup. With World Titles and CT qualification on the line the day was characterized by a boost in the scores and a number of incredibly tight contests.
In the first six heats of the morning the widest winning margin was just 1.21 points. In the second heat there wasn’t even a margin, as Ezekiel Lau and Kolohe Andino finished with heat totals of 13.40 points apiece. Lau earned the win on a count back however as he had the highest single wave score. After an agonizing interference call on the buzzer that cost Andino a heat in France, the Californian easily has the best claim to being the unluckiest surfer during the Europe leg.
“I have to reevaluate and keep improving,” a composed Andino said afterward. “I’m stoked with my performance here. To match Zeke in those conditions which suit him was positive. I hope he goes all the way and wins the event.” Lau would later be knocked out in Round 4, but you sense these two young surfers have the talent to be battling on the CT for the next decade.
In the next heat, the winning margin blew out to a massive 0.05 points as Tour veterans Matt Wilkinson and Jordy Smith traded heavyweight blows. Wilkinson landed just ahead on points and surfed with a freedom and confidence that his year has lacked.
“I was like screw a solid heat I want to do some big turns and impress some people,” the goofyfooter said. “Hopefully that will be the type of surfing that gets me into the Finals and back on the CT.” He was right when another powerful display in Round 4 saw him progress to the Quarterfinals, his best result of 2018. His matchup against Gabriel Medina will mean as much to him as it does for the Brazilian.
Perhaps the best indication of the improving conditions and the upgrading of the judging scale that came with it was shown when Michel Bourez won another tight heat. That finished with a wave that WSL Commentator and 1989 World Champion Martin Potter called the best 3.17 in the history of the sport.
It featured a late air drop to huge barrel with the Tahitian exiting after the spit. Unfortunately he fell a millisecond afterwards meaning the judges deeming the wave incomplete. A certain 10 was downgraded to a 3, but Bourez had already done enough.
“I feel so good right now,” a pumped Bourez said. “When I heard the forecast I told myself, ‘It’s on. This is what I’m on Tour for. To get barreled in the best waves in the world.'” He would later struggle to find any barrels in his Round 4 heat, but through sheer physical power and no shortage of mental strength he muscled a Quarterfinal berth. That came at the expense of local hope Frederico Morais. Kikas was obviously disappointed, but a 9th place finish here should ensure he’ll back next year to keep the crowd happy.
As the day progressed the tide dropped out making the barrels heavier and longer, but also harder to find. Winning margins stretched out as the best tuberiders, like Owen Wright, started to dominate their opponents.
The Australian put on a barrel riding exhibition in Round 3 and finished with a massive backhand barrel that scored 8.67, equal with Wilson as the day’s highest.
“That wave rocked me back on the foamball, then threw me forward with the spit,” said Wright. “You have to be right there on the spot, as tight as you can be. That’s the difference between an excellent score and a 2.”
He didn’t get the chance to surf his all-Australian Round 4 heat with Ace Buchan and Julian Wilson, but remains one of the event’s more dangerous competitors. “The waves are coming, the forecast looks good, lets do this!” he said.
That last heat not being finished means only two of the Quarterfinals are finalized. In the first Italo Ferreira takes on Michel Bourez in a classic backside-frontside duel. In the other Wilkinson and Medina, Rip Curl stablemates and friends, face one of the biggest heats of both their lives. As Wright says, “Lets do this!”