Title Race Tightens at Rip Curl Pro

Matt Rode

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Updated 3145d ago

For those of you on the wrong side of the world who didn’t stay up all night to keep tabs on the goings-on at the Moche Rip Curl Pro Portugal—well, I hope you enjoyed your sleep, because things just got very interesting.

First of all, Supertubos finally turned on—which is to say that it stopped blowing an onshore gale and produced very contestable waves. A mix of barrels and ramps greeted competitors after a week of lay days, and commissioner Kieren Perrow wasted no time in getting the boys out there. It’s hard to decide if KP has the best or worst job in existence. He gets to travel all year to some of the best waves in the world—without having to don a singlet—yet every call he makes is questioned by the tour surfers, the sponsors, and a relentless army of armchair critics watching at home. The decision this past week not to go mobile had a lot of people grumbling, but, per usual, when KP finally made the go-ahead call at Supertubos on Sunday, he was fully vindicated. There’s a reason they made Perrow commissioner, and it has a lot more to do with his brains than his brawn (although the man was never one to back down from an angry slab).

The decision this past week not to go mobile had a lot of people grumbling, but, per usual, when KP finally made the go-ahead call at Supertubos on Sunday, he was fully vindicated.

Run more than a week ago, round 1 had been a bit of a sleeper. The usual suspects had all advanced, with the exception of John John, who fell to a rampaging Jadson Andre. Jadson has been on a hot streak as of late, making the finals in France, then winning the recent prime at Cascais. Unfortunately, his run came to an end today as he was taken down by compatriot Adriano de Souza.

Despite the fact that we are in town for a contest, much more interesting were the extracurriculars that went down during a standby week of inclement weather and unruly swells. Although the tour’s focus is squarely on the beach break bounty of Supertubos, there is a lot more to Portugal than Peniche’s marquee wave, with enough nooks and crannies and varying coastline on offer to confuse even the most intrepid of explorers. In other words, there is almost always somewhere that is picking up swell and blowing offshore (which is probably why the Portuguese government promised a free return trip last year to any visiting surfers who got skunked). While the contest venue spent a blustery week maxed and blown out, a number of other waves in the area played host to a lot of excitement, with John John Florence and ASP commentator Pete Mel scoring an outer reef big wave session, and Kelly Slater landing what was arguably the best air rotation in history, a full 540 revert that garnered so much hype it even popped up on markedly un-surf-related newsfeeds throughout the crazy little world that is social media.

Then, on Sunday morning, after a week of surfing sans jersey, the wind finally turned around and KP sent the boys out at Supertubos to do work. With the swell solidly overhead and the waves ranging from frustrating to epic (depending on what heat you were in, and your rhythm with the ocean), the scene was ripe with drama. CJ Hobgood started the day off by injuring his foot in a pre-heat free surf, and had to withdraw, pinning his requalification hopes squarely on his performance at Pipeline, (a wave well suited to the 2001 world champ). Alejo Muniz posted the biggest upset of round 2, beating Julian Wilson (who has been well out of form this year); then Kai Otton took out local favourite Tiago Pires, who continued his frustrating record of early round losses at home. Along with Mitch Crews, Jeremy Flores, and Raoni Monteiro, Tiago now finds himself needing a Hail Mary miracle at Pipeline if he is to requalify.

Upsets abound and maths let Parko down

The upsets continued in round 3, and Parko was first to taste the wrath of the underdogs. Having skipped round 2 due to CJ’s injury, Adam Melling hit the water fresh and frothing, and took out the former world champ, officially ending Parko’s chances at the title. Bede Durbidge then upset Owen Wright without much fanfare, as all eyes were on Gabriel Medina, who was in the next heat and had come into Portugal mathematically capable of clinching the world title. Brett Simpson had taken down fellow Californian and former Rookie of the Year, Nat Young, in round 2, and brought newfound confidence into his clash with the ratings leader, scoring a massive upset as Medina paddled in two minutes before the horn sounded, visibly disgusted by both his surfing and the scoring in the heat.

Kelly looks gift horse in the mouth again

With Medina’s early exit from the event, his main rival for the title, Kelly Slater, was gifted an opportunity to make up some ground for the fourth time in as many events. But just like in France, California, and Tahiti, Slater failed to capitalise, as he was taken down by an on-fire Aritz Aranburu. Slater leaves Portugal with his second throwaway for the season. While he is still mathematically in the title race, he will need to at least make the finals at Pipeline to have a shot—and that’s assuming Medina loses before round 4.

But just like in France, California, and Tahiti, Slater failed to capitalise, as he was taken down by an on-fire Aritz Aranburu.

The upsets continued as Taj Burrow fell to a dominant Kai Otton, who doled out one of the most brutal drubbings we’ve seen all year. Taj’s shot at the title was already a long one, and after being solidly comboed in Portugal the “greatest surfer never to be world champ” now looks to 2015 for his maiden title, when he can try to become the first WSL champ.

On a day in which top seeds were falling like a barometer three days before Nazare goes XXL, seemingly the only favourite to really assert his dominance was John John Florence. Tour vets like to talk about “building house”—laying a foundation and then steadily increasing on scores throughout a heat. Well John John has been building house on a much grander scale, improving from event to event, taking a 3rd at Teahupoo, a 2nd at Trestles, and then a win in France. There isn’t a lot of room for improvement when you are already top of the heap, but with Medina losing early, John John could technically battle for the title at Pipe if he were to win Portugal this week. And, considering the 10 he posted in his round 3 heat against Dion Atkinson, I wouldn’t put it past him. This has been a weird year in general, and stranger things have certainly happened than the world’s best barrel rider winning the last two events of the year in pumping barrels.

We’ll know more on Monday as a winner should be crowned by the end of the day.