As foreseen, a solid swell provided heavy 8-foot (2-2.5 meter) barrels at El Gringo on Saturday for the continuation of the World Surf League (WSL) Men's Qualifying Series (QS) 1500 Maui and Sons Arica Pro Tour event at Ex Isla Alcaran, Chile. Last-minute drama and epic conditions similar to Pipeline and Backdoor (with a wetsuit and booties) determined the Semifinalists for Sunday, where the forecast calls for even larger conditions with waves in the 15-plus-foot range (5-plus meters). Due to the circumstances, Sunday's remaining heats will be 45-to -50-minutes (to be decided) and will include jet ski assist and rescue.
On Saturday, the athletes in competition displayed poise, savvy and courage at El Gringo, where the barnacle and urchin covered reef left little room for error. Although 9-point rides were earned daily from the judges at the Maui and Sons Arica Pro Tour, Leon Vicuna (CHL) was the first athlete to receive a perfect-10 for a long and spacious barrel in the dying moments of Quarterfinal 3 against event standout, Guillermo Satt (CHL).
"This is incredible, I can't even believe it," Vicuna said. "It's a dream to make it through to the Semifinals in such a prestigious event as this one. It's even more amazing that I did it against Guillermo, who is a local here, a specialist, and has already won the event [in 2011]. I was losing the heat when that wave came in at the very end. I had no idea it would barrel the way it did. It got me so pumped up! But I know that I have to concentrate for tomorrow [Sunday] and pick which board I'm going to ride, because the waves are going to be completely different and way bigger than any of the other days of the event."
Vicuna will be matched up against Miguel Tudela (PER), who has shown a solid performance throughout the 2015 Maui and Sons Arica Pro Tour. Prior to Vicuna's 10-point ride, Tudela backdoored a massive section on a lefthander to obtain a 9.80 in Round 4. The young Peruvian has impressed his peers with versatility above the lip and in waves of consequence as well.
On the other side of the heat draw, Manuel Selman (CHL) will face Andy Criere (FRA) in Heat 1 of the Semifinals. Selman edged out Lucas Chianca (BRA) by a score of 16.30 to 15.75 in the Quarterfinals. Chianca had been obtaining scores in the excellent range (8.0-10) in all of his heats at El Gringo, but fell short on Saturday.
Criere had less trouble in his victory over Cristian Merello (CHL), who broke his board and then mistimed his opportunities with the sets on offer. Both surfers had faced up against each other in the 4-man Heat 3 of Round 3, when Merello advanced due to an interference called against Robson Santos (BRA).
"I started my heat thinking that I needed to catch two good waves, just like in all of my heats here," said Criere. "Conditions are very challenging here and they change a lot. At this contest I've surfed in small, medium and large waves. So it feels great to keep winning my heats.
"I tried to catch the biggest waves of the sets and Cristian got unlucky. He broke his board, but he's a surfer that I respect a lot, just like all of the other Chileans who have welcomed me here. I'm happy with what I've accomplished so far, but tomorrow is another day, the waves are going to be much bigger and I feel confident to face whatever comes my way."
Honorable mention goes to Joao Chianca (BRA), who charged all event long and, at 14 years of age, was the youngest surfer at the Maui and Sons Arica Pro Tour. Paul Cesar Distingui (FRA) and the Hawaiians Kevin Sullivan and Eala Stewart also shined at the QS 1,500 before bowing out from competition.
A call is set for 8:00 a.m. local time Sunday for what will be a stunning completion to the Maui and Sons Arica Pro Tour. Watch the action LIVE at www.mauiandsons.cl/aricaprotour2015/.