Even on its best of days, Cascais' Praia Guincho, which finds itself both the go-to and the back-up venue for the EDP Billabong Pro Cascais, has a slightly sinister vibe -- at best ready, at worst desperate, to go howling onshore. Unless of course it's just onshore from dawn, as was the case today, for the opening of hostilities in the Men's QS 10,000.
Thus a paucity of oceanic quality governed a largely inauspicious start to proceedings as the world's best qualifiers, and a handful of the world's best CT surfers, convened to kick off the European leg of the Tour.
With the EDP Billabong Pro representing the last significant scramble for QS points before the Vans Triple Crown -- where ascending the rankings is notoriously akin to scaling a very greasy pole -- stakes were high, even when scores were, initially, not.
The prospect of early elimination in Cascais for QS hopefuls looming like a Guincho fog bank, and the brisk onshores blowing scores and requirements back into the speakers from whence they came, added sink-or-swim gravitas to what was largely a scrappy morning.
Just two weeks earlier, Jeremy Flores found himself the sole Championship Tour European not to have made the Quarterfinal round in 2017. Yet, his healthy showing at the Hurley Pro at Trestles -- where he finished with a fifth-place -- made amends for that and saw him arriving in Cascais in slightly better ratings shape than in recent years, when he's been regularly asked to atone for a lackluster CT campaign via a massive Portuguese QS step.
His opening Round Two heat -- held in lower tide conditions offering up more genuine lip to attack -- ramped up the performance ante significantly, banging a pair of 8.33s, and throwing away a 7.60 for which most of Round One's surfers would have sold a kidney. While the heady days of the late 2000s when he was a perennial Top 10 performer feel like an awfully long time ago, his class nevertheless shone through in keen autumn afternoon sunshine.
Flores duly passed the good-to-excellent threshold, and suddenly advancing heat totals started to look like they were scored out of 20, after all. It was classic blue-collar QS fare -- take on the lip, commit on the face where possible and bang the oncoming closeout. "More critical rather than progressive, I'd say," Billabong coach Richard "Dog" Marsh sagely observed of the necessary approach. Meat and potatoes maybe, but at times, new potatoes, and relatively choice cuts of flesh, at least.
Patrick Gudauskas, Deivid Silva and Kanoa Igarashi all went into the excellent range with aggressive, in-the-pocket surfing. Igarashi, another member of the CT self-preservation society reflected, "I know this wave pretty well...I'm here to hopefully rack up the points so I can relax, I'm in a better position than last year, I think." Whether Igarashi's relative dominance in such encounters compared to more fleeting successes on the main stage is evidence of the gulf in class between the two tours, or speaks more toward his own skill set being best suited to average, QS beachbreaks, remains to be seen.
Tune in Wednesday at 7:45 a.m. local time for the next call and potential run of the rest of men's Round Two and the women's CT Round One.
With a racing flood tide and dropping swell putting awkward deep spots between sections, rendering a return to the mediocre conditions of the morning, kiteboarders and windsurfers, roaring outside the line-up in the howling north wind appeared to be having the most fun of all assembled.
That is, until Mikey Wright's mullet flapped defiantly in the breeze pre-paddle out, heralding a bit of box office on an otherwise don't-call-us, we'll-call-you late afternoon.
While statement hairstyles surely carry no favor with the judges, spectators and commentators alike seem to delight in unreserved collective cheer for the younger Wright sibling's tribute to rural Australian chic. It probably doesn't hurt that its owner also happens to be one of the most exciting free surfers on the planet. "He's the guy everyone wants to watch surf a heat" ubercoach Glen Hall squeaked, accurately, as Wright strode on through.
With Yago Dora eliminated this afternoon, yet still all-but assured a spot on the 2018 CT, Wright ambles into Round Three, carrier of the non-partisan people's choice banner, whether he likes it or not. At No. 20 in the QS rankings coming into this event, a big result here could see him rocket up into the Top 10. And quite possibly inspire a whole new generation to adopt a 'business in the front, party in the back' approach to the work/life balance.