It was apparent from the first heat of the morning of the Men's QS 10,000 that the Round of 16 is where the rubber meets the road. Every surfer arrives with their game face on, laser focused on the task at hand, and knowing that a big result in Huntington can define an entire season. With a declining south swell, both in consistency and size, tactics become much more of factor, priority becomes crucial. Nail-biter heats abound as the margin of victory shrinks like grapes on a vine. It was a theme that played out through the day, with four of eight heats being separated by a single point on the winning side.
And if you were searching for an example of competitive intensity and twitchy nerves, there was no need to look any further than Pat Gudauskas and Italo Ferreira, who squared off in Heat 7. Ferreira put Gudauskas under pressure from the start, forcing the Positive Vibe Warrior to get downright angry on an inside section after his first ride. Ferreira followed up with another fins-free snap, channeling all the technique and power his compact frame could muster. But Pat G. found his mojo and pulled a buzzer-beater in the waning seconds, featuring a free-falling grab-rail floater followed by a Hulk power-pose claim.
Earlier, Huntington Beach's favorite son, Kanoa Igarashi, advanced over Aussie Stuart Kennedy. But Igarashi had to overcome Kennedy as well as some tricky weather conditions. Complicating things in their early morning heat was a swirling wind that switched directions three times, the result of a thick marine layer caused by the notorious cutoff low Southern California weather pattern. "I just wanted to make sure I stayed in the lead and when that south wind started kicking up I knew it would make conditions tough so I'm glad I got those first two waves," Igarashi said. "Even though the wind is light, this lineup gets super sensitive so I knew the opportunities would become more scarce and that I had to capitalize on the ones that came.
Not that the southwesterly wind bothered Josh Kerr any, as it's the perfect "air wind" for the Pier Bowl rights. Surfing against Adam Melling, Kerr continued to find big air sections and push the limits, sometimes to his detriment, other times to his advantage. The two Aussies went toe-to-toe, with Kerr getting the nod by a mere .30 points.
In what's becoming a disconcerting pattern, Filipe Toledo was once again involved in a priority tussle, this time with Davey Cathels. There were two actually, but the first instance was the most compelling. After a paddle-battle to gain priority, Cathels was given the nod by the priority judge. A set wave approached, Cathels and Toledo both chose to stroke into the wave. Cathels, either feeling sporting or not knowing the circumstance, chose to go left, thus allowing Toledo to go right. If Cathels had gone right, Toledo would have been dinged with an interference and been at a severe disadvantage for the remainder of the heat.
"That was a really close heat against Davey [Cathels], he's just such a good surfer and I felt my scores were a little low, but I'm stoked to make it through after that last right got me the score," Toledo said. "There were some close priority calls that are part of the game so you just have to stay focused on your own surfing."
In the final heat of the morning, Brazilian Tomas Hermes ended the run of Griffin Colapinto, but not without a fight from the kid from San Clemente. Hermes, riding his magic Xanadu-shaped board, started the heat like he was shot out of a canon, posting two big scores before Colapinto knew what hit him. But he took the blow and fought back, climbing back into the heat with five minutes remaining. Then with just seconds on the clock, Colapinto needed to stick a big air in the shore break to have a chance at winning... but he couldn't hang on.
Hermes and the rest of the remaining eight surfers will battle again on finals day Sunday. Action starts at 7:30 a.m. PDT on the WSL.