With a day-full of theatrics that'd make Willy Shakespeare shed a tear, Sunset Beach took the QS ratings sheet and lit it on fire.
Indeed, just when the competitors thought they'd be riding shortboards today with declining surf, the swell bumped back up and the wind dropped, delivering sheet-glass 6-8-foot pumping Sunset for Finals day.
And then of course was the qualification situation, the Vans World Cup of Surfing being the very last chance for more competitors in contention than we've ever seen to qualify for the 2017 Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour.
Certainly, it was a do-or-die day for many a man-on-the-bubble, their fates complicated even more by a handful of A-list CT surfers mowing through the rounds, among them Kelly Slater, Jordy Smith, John John Florence and Joel Parkinson, to name a few.
In the early morning's Round Four, San Clemente's smiley Tanner Gudauskas, Portuguese war-horse Frederico Morais and Oahu's very own Zeke Lau kept their dreams alive advancing with evident vigor and intensity, shattering the hopes of fellow bubble-boys Marc Lacomare and Jesse Mendes along the way.
"I was just going to go for it," said Tanner Gudauskas, following his high-octane Round Four heat. "And it's hard out here at Sunset! It's like you're surfing in a wild river; there's moguls coming at you and everything…it's just amazing."
Rolling into the Quarterfinals, Frederico Morais' Sunset tear wouldn't let up. For the second event in a row Morais was beginning to look unstoppable, linking huge arcs in the pockets to hacks off the dangerous Sunset closeouts, keeping his balance for clean finishes after each harrowing airdrop.
"I knew it was going to be a really tough heat," said Morais. "Me, Deivid and Zeke are all right there on the bubble, so I knew it was going to be a really important heat for qualification. I had to get it done."
And that he did. Not only did Morais manage to qualify thanks to his commanding performances, by day's end, he found himself in his second-straight Triple Crown Final with a shot at taking over the top of the QS rankings.
Other guys needing to get ‘er done, battling for their CT requalification lives were Jack Freestone and Jadson Andre. Both were outside of the Top 10 coming into Hawaii. Jack has endured a very up-and-down year. Jadson, meanwhile, had never performed well at Sunset. Yet both advanced all the way to the Semifinals in their effort to stay alive. For Andre, that was enough. His miracle late-season mission was completed.
For Freestone, however, it was a much dicier situation. More on that later.
Jordy Smith, meanwhile, was a man in berserk-mode, surfing a very noticeable notch faster and stronger than the rest of his opponents during the Quarterfinal.
"With 45 seconds to go I think he [Jadson Andre] was screaming at Joel, "PLEASE DON'T GO JOEEEELLL, PLEASE I'LL GIVE YOU ANYTHING!!," recounted Jordy Smith. "I don't know if Jadson qualified, but by the looks of him I think he might of, so, yeah, stoked for him."
The first Semifinal turned into an apocalyptic super-heat with Freestone, Morais, Lau and Gudauskas duking it out for a secure spot in the Top 10 ratings.
Morais and Gudauskas prevailed, continuing their astounding form. As for Freestone, he and Lau were locking horns for the final QS spot. Had Zeke finished 3rd instead of 4th, he would fended off Freestone. Instead, Freestone edged out Lau by just 50 points to secure the No. 10 spot.
But Freestone still wasn't safe, because Gudauskas had done the unthinkable by making the Final. At that point, all he had to do was finish second to bump Freestone back out of the mix.
While Freestone was chewing nails on the beach, Gudauskas took an early lead. He held it too, for a good 10 minutes, until the Sunset lineup came alive, and Morais, Smith and Meister responded.
Smith caught fire and remained unstoppable, surfing with an energy and potency that only an elite CT-warrior like himself would possess. While Morais was solid, Smith raised him with added speed and combinations, taking the win at the Vans World Cup of Surfing, no questions asked.
After this magnificent day of world-class surfing and ratings shifts, surf fans can finally catch their collective breath and take a look at our potential qualifiers for next year's tour.
Final Qualifying Series Top 10
- Connor O'Leary
- Ethan Ewing
- Frederico Morais
- Joan Duru
- Kanoa Igarashi
- Leonardo Fioravanti
- Jeremy Flores
- Jadson Andre
- Ian Gouveia
- Jack Freestone