The MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal, Stop No. 10 of 11 on the Men’s World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour (CT), launched in pumping six-to-eight foot (1.8 – 2.4 metre) surf to challenge the best surfers in the world. Unruly conditions at first light this morning gradually cleaned up to offer hollow barrels by lunchtime to complete the opening round of competition as well as six heats of Round 2.

The new Jeep Leader after France, Gabriel Medina (BRA), found his groove right away on familiar territory in Peniche. Medina evidenced why he is the defending event winner at Supertubos by threading some of the cleanest barrels of the morning and also attacking the solid lips on offer to post a 13.17 total (out of a possible 20) and easily advance into Round 3.

“It feels good to be wearing the yellow Jeep Leader Jersey again,” Medina said. “It’s really hard out there but I got a lot of waves and I’m happy to make it through. It’s good to have this kind of love and support here. I feel like I’m surfing at home and it’s great to be back in Portugal.”

The 2014 WSL Champion Medina can only earn a second World Title early at this event if he wins, and if No. 2 Filipe Toledo (BRA) and No. 3 Julian Wilson (AUS) get knocked out early from the competition. Toledo almost suffered another blow in his World Title campaign by being relegated to Round 2 by compatriot Tomas Hermes (BRA) this morning, but later redeemed himself with a critical win over Rip Curl wildcard Samuel Pupo (BRA) in Round 2, courtesy of a long barrel ride and 8.17 single highest score (out of a possible 10).

“It was a tough loss this morning and really hard to digest,” Toledo said. “It was still super hard to find a wave out there. It took me more than 15 minutes to find a backup but I’m just glad to make it. You can’t apply a big portion of your strategy when the guy is so far away from you, so I was just hoping that another little corner would come my way and I’d get another barrel.”

The recent winner in France and current World No. 3 Julian Wilson (AUS) posted one of today’s biggest performances with two solid rides to take a 14.50 total win that will see him straight into Round 3. The Australian started with a deep backhand barrel, which he exited cleanly for a 7.50 and later committed to a high-risk floater re-entry maneuver on his backhand once again for a 7-point ride to seal the deal.

“I love the challenge of trying to perform in conditions that are very very tricky, and I’m happy to find a couple of scores then,” Wilson said. “I’m sure I’m going to continue to be tested down here. You only get a couple of heats where it’s dreamy, most of the time you’re grinding it out. The contests are very close together and I felt like I didn’t have much time to reset. But I was able to get a good sleep which was crucial and came here for a surf early this morning before the start.”

Only Kanoa Igarashi (JPN) could surpass Wilson’s scoreline in the opening round today, posting a strong 14.77 for two similar waves on which he performed two-turn combinations on his forehand.

For Medina, Toledo, and Wilson, the Men’s World Title scenarios are as follows:

– Only Medina can claim the title in Portugal by winning the event.
– If Medina wins the event, Toledo will need a 9th or better and Wilson a 3rd or better to take the World Title decision to Hawaii;
– If Medina finishes 2nd or worse in Portugal, the WSL Title will be decided in Hawaii.

Rookie Griffin Colapinto (USA) scored the first deep barrel of the event, starting behind the section on a solid right, the Californian pumped to move through a couple of sections and exited it to finish the ride with a re-entry. Judges awarded the first excellent 8.00 for Colapinto’s second wave. But Conner Coffin (USA) found his own clean tube, a shorter ride but sufficient, to post the winning 7.33 score into Round 3, sending Colapinto and Joan Duru (FRA) into the elimination Round 2.

A runner-up in Peniche in his rookie season, Italo Ferreira (BRA) has since struggled to make it out of Round 3 at Supertubes. Today the Brasilian started well with two above-average scores in one of the morning’s slower heats. Ferreira first stuck to the wave face with aggressive backhand turns and later threw caution to the wind to go above the lip on his forehand, getting his second score on a single-maneuver.

“I had a lot of great moments in Portugal, it’s a special place for me,” Ferreira said. “This was a hard heat against Frederico (Morais) and Wiggolly (Dantas), but I’m happy I managed to catch a few waves and tried a couple of big maneuvers. It’s been really hard these past few weeks and I had a bad result in France so I felt pretty bad about it, but that’s the game and I’m trying to recover.”

Jordy Smith (ZAF), one of the most consistent surfers in Portugal over the years, found a couple of backhand barrels this morning when the lineup was still messy and showed why he’s so dangerous in the thumping shorebreaks of Peniche. The South African advanced into Round 3 and sent Yago Dora (BRA) and Keanu Asing (HAW) into elimination Round 2.

“I feel really confident here and comfortable in Portugal in general,” Smith said. “This whole year I haven’t had great results but yet I’m in the Top 5. I think it’s the same way for everyone. The scores weren’t high in this heat but grinding through and making it is all you got to do. ”

Ryan Callinan (AUS), runner-up at the Quiksilver Pro France only a few days ago, received another opportunity to compete against the world’s best surfers as a replacement wildcard for this event. The young Australian launched the show in the first heat of the morning and posted another upset win to send Owen Wright (AUS) and Ezekiel Lau (HAW) into Round 2. Callinan suffered heavy wipeouts in that heat but also found some nice walls to exploit on his forehand to post a 6.00 and take the win.

“When I came the other year it was pretty small and nothing like this so I’m just trying to get used to the lineup,” Callinan said. “These last few days have been pretty overwhelming so I’m trying to reset and refocus. It’s awesome, I can to Europe for two weeks, I’ve been here over a month already and it looks like I’ll be there a little later now.”

Round 2 unfolded in smaller conditions as the first pulse of swell softened throughout the afternoon. All six heats witnessed top seeds take wins with Owen Wright (AUS), Wade Carmichael (AUS), Kolohe Andino (USA), Willian Cardoso (BRA) and Michael Rodrigues (BRA) all advancing over local wildcards and lower seeded surfers.