The MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal, the penultimate stop on the 2019 World Surf League (WSL) Championship Tour (CT), launched today in wind-affected three-to-five foot surf at Supertubos to complete the Seeding Rounds 1 of both the men’s and women’s divisions. Today marked the first time the elite Top 17 returned to the Peniche lineup since the event’s inception in 2010.

Events No. 9 and 10 on the Women’s and Men’s Championship Tour respectively, and the last stops before the big showdown in Hawaii, the MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal carry implications in both the World Title race and qualification for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

The current Jeep Frontrunner Gabriel Medina (BRA) dominated his Round 1 heat with a mix of high-performance surfing and technical tube ride. The two-time WSL Champion first launched into a huge air on a right and backed up his 8.17 (out of a possible 10) main score with a small but long barrel on his forehand this time to build a massive 14.67 total (out of a possible 20). Coming off one of his worst results ever in France, the Brasilian has a chance to redeem himself this week and even potentially seal the deal on a third World Title in Peniche.

“I knew it was going to be tough with waves all over the place,” said Medina. “So I just tried to catch a lot of them and I landed that one really good air and then just basically fought to find a backup. It’s funny it feels like I’ve been in that position (competing in Portugal with a chance to claim the world title) for ten years. I feel good, I know I need a big result here and I’m not focused on winning it here, I’m ready for Hawaii. I’m just focusing on myself, I really want to make some heats and just make it harder for the other guys.”

World No. 2 Filipe Toledo (BRA) was the first surfer to lead the way under the lip at Supertubos today, as he found a long and frothy backhand barrel punctuated by a big re-entry for a 7.17. The Brasilian completed his scoreboard with a two-turn combo on a right and easily advanced in first position. Diminished by a back injury sustained earlier this year at the Freshwater Pro, Toledo looked in fine form on opening day in Peniche but did mention surfing through the pain in his heat.

“It’s really tricky so if you get that one good wave right at the start it gives you so much confidence and helps build up through the heat,” said Toledo. “Then I focused on finding a few little waves to do one or two turns and it worked out. My back pain is still here and I haven’t surfed for the past four days or so, it comes and goes at the moment. It’s been lots of ups and downs, definitely not the European leg I was hoping for but I’m taking it easy and trying not to put too much pressure on myself.”

After a slow start to the morning, things heated up in Heat 3 with the Brasilian duo of Yago Dora (BRA) and Italo Ferreira (BRA) who locked in a battle for first place and eclipsed local pro Frederico Morais (PRT), who’ll have to surf in the Elimination Round 2. The world No. 4 Ferreira went above the lip on his best two scores, including an impressive backhand full rotation for a 7.17, but Dora answered with more traditional, powerful turns in the lip and outmatched his compatriot with a 13.56 total heat win.

“Sometimes you just have to improvise,” said Dora. “The waves were really hard out there, closing out fast and supper hollow and powerful so I tried to concentrate on one big move or two if I ever could. There are a lot of good waves around, the back up spot is super fun but hopefully Supertubos will turn on soon, the wind is supposed to switch around and go offshore.”

Straight off a win at the Roxy Pro France, current Jeep Yellow Jersey Carissa Moore (HAW) kept her fire going into her first heat in Peniche. The Hawaiian, who won the event the last time it was held here in 2010, found a connection with the Supertubos lineup right away and scored one of the very few barrels of the day to back up her main score and advance in first out of Round 1.

“It wasn’t bad for a start I was stoked to work my way into a rhythm even with the pre-comp nerves,” said Moore. “I’m happy to get rolling, win my heat and get on to the next round. I feel like there’s a lot of work to do (before claiming a potential world title), I’ve been watching this event for years and it’s so tricky anything can happen so I’m having realistic expectations that it will still end up in Maui. I’m just going to try my best and enjoy it as much as I’ve enjoyed all the previous events this year.”

Silvana Lima (BRA) advanced in second behind Moore. Rip Curl wildcard and former CT athlete Alana Blanchard (HAW) had the second-best score of the heat with a 6.47 but couldn’t find a backup and failed to advance. She will be facing tough competition in the Elimination Round 2 when the event resumes.

World No. 3 Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) came out on top of the women’s opening Seeding Round heat but the fireworks really started in the second matchup, with an amazing three-way battle between Macy Callaghan (AUS), Lakey Peterson (USA) and Nikki Van Dijk (AUS). While Peterson is locked in the World Title race in second position on the rankings, for Callaghan and Van Dijk a result in Peniche could turn their season around with potential requalification through the CT.

All three surfers decided to attack the lefts on their backhand and laid critical turns for good scores in the 6+ range, Callaghan leading the way with two good waves. Peterson seemed safe in the second advancing position until Van Dijk found a last-second opportunity and pulled a miracle comeback to force the world title contender into the Elimination Round 2.

“I’m really happy with that heat it’s always a nice way to start an event,” said Callaghan. “I love beach breaks so I felt very good and comfortable out there. I’m pretty much last so I don’t really have any pressure, you can only go up from there. I’m just having fun and trying to surf my best to show that I’m capable to be here and that I want to be here for a while.”