Competing on the Championship Tour is an alluring dream. Traveling with the world's best surfers to the world's best waves is undoubtedly one of the best jobs on the planet.
Getting the job is the tricky part.
Surfers audition on the Qualifying Series, a collection of events that have various ranking weights based on prize purses. There are dozens of smaller QS1000 events. Fewer QS3000 and QS6000 events, which carry more weight. But when it comes to QS10000 events, by far the most valuable as far as available points are concerned, there are only five on the 2016 schedule.
The Ballito Pro is done and the Vans US Open of Surfing is dusted. The lack of 10,000 events in Brazil this year has changed the game tremendously, and now every such event is critical. Bottom line - skip a 10,000 event and you could skip a Championship Tour career. It's that simple. On that note, the Billabong Pro Cascais has a serious vibe going. Sunday was day one at the third biggy of the five.
Jadson Andre is hungry to keep his CT career alive, and for good reason. He's sitting at No. 22 on the CT Jeep Leaderboard, which will get him through if he can stay put, but if he drops even one spot down the rankings he'll miss the CT cutoff, and have to qualify through the QS. He's in Cascais to hedge his bets.
Jadson has become such a likeable surfer over the last few seasons, always fighting until the last minute, always getting the most cheers from his fellow competitors on big wins, and always has a smile for the fans and their selfie pics. Along with Wiggolly, he represents the underdog Brazilian surfer who is incredibly talented and a ferocious competitor, but is not a Gabriel Medina, an Adriano de Souza or a Filipe Toledo.
Continuing along the line of something big happening, young Mikey February from Cape Town is currently on a smartly ascending campaign, coming off a third place win at the Azores Airlines Pro 6,000 tournament earlier this month and currently ranked 35th on the WQS. After one solid right that saw him put an array of big forehand turns together, followed by a fast and whippy left-hander that looked like a normal day at his home break in Cape Town. He advanced behind Andre, and the South African webcast viewers cheered in their multitudes at their TV screens.
Not too many Australian fans were cheering when Melling, the natural-footer and one of the fastest surfers on tour, took a dive in the next heat, number 2 in the second round. Currently rated 26th on the Championship Tour, he is in an even more needy place than Jadson, and a good result at this event would be a great help for his career at this stage. As the heat ticked down he wasn't looking like a winner, and the young Reunion surfer Medi Veminardi, who's name sounds more like a Formula One racing car driver than a Qualifying Series surfer, lucked into a bomb and went from fourth to first on that wave and left Melling in the dust and in last place.
One surfer who continues on his unstoppable run to a rookie season on the Championship Tour in 2017 is Frenchman Joan Duru. A convincing win in the third heat served a number of purposes to a number of people. It showed the judges that he owns versatility; from perfect Supertubes J-Bay in the past to glassy four-foot right-handers at Ballito to junky cross-shore Praia to Guincho, Cascais, Portugal. They have seen him in all conditions, and after six years it is finally clear that he can handle it all. He can win in Cascais junk, and he also loves a powerful right where he can get going on his backhand.
With the two remaining QS 10,000s -- at the North Shore's Haleiwa and Sunset --he will prove unstoppable, and his only trajectory on the QS rankings will be upwards.