Until a fortnight ago Zeke Lau and Portugal had a checkered relationship. The Hawaiian first traveled to the region three years ago as the first alternate for the Cascais Pro. He hung around for five days, then was on standby for Round One, only to be told that no surfer had pulled out. The year after he returned with a place on the grid. Waiting all day for his first heat on the Iberian peninsula, which eventually got underway at 7:30 in the evening. He came in fourth.
It was, however, the third time (in 2017) that he got lucky, as he stormed through the Cascais Pro to take the title and the 10,000 ratings points. Those points elevated him from 105th on the QS up to 12th and breathed fresh life into a year that hadn't come close to Lau's expectations.
"It's been a long year of learning for me, learning about myself, learning how I like to compete," he said after the Cascais win. "I think I just realized I'm at my best when I think, 'You know what, it's like any other day, just go out and surf.' That's what's really worked for me out here."
The new realization didn't translate, however, to the CT at the Quik Pro France where Lau scored another 25th, his fifth of the season. His surfing was on point, and he typically battled to the death against a difficult opponent in Mick Fanning, but that result meant he dropped to the World No. 25 spot. It also meant that his return trip to Portugal this year is more important than ever. He now has just four events, two on the CT and the two QS 10,000 events in Hawaii, if he is to maintain his CT status.
Right now that goal still remains in his control. You'll probably remember last year when he was forced to watch as his qualification hopes rested in good friend Kanoa Igarashi's result at Pipeline. "I was watching my life long dream happen and I had no control over it," he said later, as Kanoa did enough to ensure Zeke made the cut.
For a man who prides himself on doing all the work himself, of being totally prepared to make all the sacrifices to achieve his goals, that experience was especially difficult. While he is on record as saying the process helped him to take a step back and let things happen, there is no way he ever wants to be a passenger again in the pursuit of his dreams.
Returning to Portugal, less than two weeks after his last triumph, can only be a good thing now. It's a different break, sure, but one that should suit his style of surfing even more. He put in some time at Supertubos just before his Cascais win and the big barrels or alternate big chunky sections should suit his powerful mix of style and aggression.
Now, it's not his absolute last chance. A solid result at either Haleiwa, or Sunset, a place where he has won multiple events before, should make him safe on the QS. The Pipe Masters too is a massive opportunity for the native Hawaiian to secure some big CT points. Yet, as Zeke knows all too well, relying on results in Hawaii is a dangerous, and high pressure, game. His best opportunity to grab the wheel of his own destiny is in the beachbreaks around Peniche. Portugal has been good to him once already in 2017. If he makes it twice, Lau should be staying where he belongs.