Blue jerseys (the lower seeded surfers) owned Round 3 as local legend Joel Parkinson (AUS), 11-time World Champion Kelly Slater (USA) and reigning World Champ and defending event champion Gabriel Medina (BRA) were all dealt 13th-place finishes.
Medina, who started his Title run last season with a win at the Gold Coast, found himself in second position after Glenn Hall (IRL) launched an aggressive vertical attack for a 7.40 and the heat lead. Needing the score as time ticked off the clock, the Brazilian went after a wave under Hall's priority and was called for interference. Per the World Surf League (WSL) Rule Book, interference is called if "a surfer has hindered the scoring potential of the Surfer deemed to have right of way for the wave." Medina's second ride was nulled and he was eliminated from competition.
"He was way too close to me for me to be able to get a clean take off," said Hall. "We did have words out in the water but it's nothing personal."
Medina was obviously frustrated with the turnout and gave a post-heat interview inconsistent with the WSL standard of conduct. WSL officials issued the following statement in response: "This is professional surfing's biggest stage, the stakes are high and there is no shortage of passion. Gabriel's post-heat interview was not worthy conduct of an athlete at this level and the league has engaged in discussions with him and will take further action if necessary."
Italo Ferreira (BRA), building on his momentum from taking down Championship Tour (CT) veteran Ace Buchan (AUS), scored a big victory for the rookies when he knocked off Kelly Slater (USA) in the first heat of the day. Ferreira had the 11-time World Champ up against the ropes, dominating the heat after completing an explosive rotation for a 7.17. Slater changed to the unique Tomo board -- a short board with straight, parallel rails and a wide tail -- but was never able to use it. He sat out the back needing an excellent range (8.00 or above) score as the ocean went flat. Ferreira adds another huge upset to his résumé while Slater suffers a 13th-place finish for Stop No. 1 on the CT season.
"I saw fun waves from the beach before I went out there but I couldn't find them," said Slater. "I missed one that might have been okay but in hindsight there's not a whole lot more I could have done. I felt confident that if I got a wave I could get a score but the waves were so mushy. The first year I won the Title I came in 31st place in the first event so I'm not too worried. This is just one event, but even so it's not good to get off to a start like this."
Wiggolly Dantas (BRA) also proved to be a dangerous rookie contender, toppling Parkinson at the Aussie's home break. Using an aggressive backhand attack, Dantas dealt the Cooly Kid his first Round 3 elimination at the Gold Coast.
"Parko knows this bank and has been surfing here his whole life so I was looking the bigger waves," Dantas said. "I have my confidence from yesterday and I'm feeling good."
As conditions improved, all surfers amped up their games. Taj Burrow (AUS) was the first to hit the nine-point range with a dramatic layback followed by Mick Fanning (AUS) in Heat 7. Filipe Toledo (BRA) continued impress earning two excellent-range scores, one in the nine-point range, for the highest heat total of the competition thus far (an 18.50).
"I love to surf rights and I've been really confident," Toledo said. "The long wait was good for my mind and to figure out my boards. The first couple minutes of that heat I'd been waiting for a good one and I made it a nine and I was just relaxed after that. I think this year is going to be a great year for Brazil and for the younger guys on Tour."
See all the nine-point rides from the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast here.
Toledo continued to dominate at Snapper. In Round 4 he earned the direct advance into the Quarterfinals, taking advantage of the small ramps provided by the Superbank. Without missing a beat, Toledo continued to tear up Snapper with his progressive maneuvers, earning his bid into the Quarterfinals with a "Club Sandwich" that gave him the go-ahead in a heavyweight heat against Jordy Smith (ZAF) and Matt Wilkinson (AUS).
A heavyweight heat featured Fanning, Adriano de Souza (BRA) and Bede Durbidge (AUS). Durbidge, who isn't known for his progressive maneuvers, put up an air reverse to take the early lead but Fanning and de Souza hacked up back-to-back set waves to shakeup the standings. De Souza reached the excellent range in the final 5 minutes, matching Fanning's final score. Fanning advances as the higher seed, but the heat was one of the tightest of the day.
"Once you get to these final rounds everyone is ripping," said Fanning. "I had a look at the draw last night and thought there was a lot of heats that I didn't know which way they would go. Everyone on this Tour has the ability to win this event, it's whoever gets the waves."
Conditions were clean for Round 5 to decide the final spots in the Quarterfinals. Dantas, who eliminated local hero Parkinson in Round 3, continued to impress as a rookie contender, belting a 9.17 in the opening heat to defeat Hall. Heat 2 also paired two surfers on opposite ends of the spectrum: Burrow, now in his 18th season on the CT, took on Ferreira, the rookie who knocked off Slater in Round 3. The combatants traded excellent-range scores, both reaching the excellent range. Burrow used his fine-tuned, fins-free carves in the pocket to gain the edge and win the heat by a fraction of a point.