Both John John Florence and Gabriel Medina survived potential Round Two upsets this morning at Supertubos, advancing from low-scoring, largely wave-starved early heats. As a big tidal ebb drained water off the contest bank, waves that stayed open were a rarity, giving for nail-biter heats that could've been snatched with mediocre scores in the early morning fog.
"It was a bit nerve-wracking, sitting for a couple of days thinking about it… you keep getting into that mindset to surf a heat and then it's next call, next call…" offered an honest World No.1 John John Florence, having done just enough to negotiate his way past local wildcard Miguel Blanco. "I'm glad we got down here this morning and there were waves, but it's still pretty hard. It's so hard to find an open wave."
World No. 2 Gabriel Medina squeaked out of an even lower scoring encounter with rookie Ryan Callinan, with neither surfer breaking into double figures for their two wave totals.
"I got two bad waves, but that was enough to make it through," said Medina. "Ryan is a great surfer… but I just try to get my waves. Everyone is good, everyone can do airs, get barrels, do turns, so I just focus on myself, do my best. I'm stoked to take the win."
Much as conditions can change in the blink of an eye in Europe's beachbreak venues -- or perhaps, more appropriately, in the malevolent swirl of a tidal rip -- so too can the fortunes of the Championship Tour surfers. When Jeremy Flores, who has had a thoroughly forgettable year on tour in 2016, tube-rode his way to a pair of excellent scores, it came at the expense of Matt Wilkinson, who saw his World Title campaign come to an end this morning.
Wilkinson, who won the first two events of the year and wore the leader's yellow jersey well into the second half of the season, will end up with a career-best placing in 2016. That, however, would have come as scant consolation for the goofyfoot as he processed the defeat on the sand. Nevertheless, having come to the realization that his World Title race was over, an ever-gracious Wilkinson gave both his lycra and surfboard to delighted fans on the beach, adding weight to the adage that while form may be temporary, class is permanent.
"It was really disappointing, that heat, but I've had a great year. There's still another event to go, let's see if I can put another massive result on the board, I'd love to do well at Pipe. I've had the best year of my career so far and I'm excited to keep it going for the next few years," he said.
Flores, a former Pipe Master and Teahupo'o winner is never more dangerous than when his back is against the wall, and could well be a danger-man in solid Supertubos surf in the later rounds.
"I just got lucky," he said. "I just got all the waves, somehow, for once. You've got to not fall when you get the waves, but I'm sure if Wilko would've got the same waves, he would have done really well too.
"Honestly it's anyone's game out there, a wave-catching contest. I feel like I haven't won a CT heat in so long, and I feel like I haven't had a good performance. It's good surfing against the top seeds, there's kinda no pressure."
After the remaining heats of Round Two are completed, Flores will meet Medina in Round Three -- in a heat that could have a say in the World Title being awarded here in Portugal.
In order for that to happen though, Medina would have to lose early, and Florence would have to make the Final. But the Hawaiian has many bridges to cross before that. His first, and far from insignificant task, will be overcoming giant-killer Frederico Morais in Round Three.