As the ASP World Title race tightens and pressure builds, Round 1 of the Rip Curl Pro Portugal got underway with the two frontrunners, Mick Fanning and Kelly Slater, looking a bit out of sorts. With inconsistent, shifty three-to-four-foot surf, both contenders had trouble making sense of the lineup.
Slater lost out to 15-year-old wildcard Jacob Willcox, which may stand as the biggest upset of the entire year. Willcox could do no wrong. His wave selection was spot on and he made the most out of every scoring opportunity. Last year Slater lost early in Peniche, which essentially cost him the title. You can bet he doesn't want to make the same mistake twice.
For his part in it Willcox, being the teenager that he is, simply remarked, ""It was pretty fun out there, I got a couple of good ones."
Those "couple of good ones" could have really put the screws to Slater if Fanning hadn't also hiccupped. Facing a hungry Matt Wilkinson, Fanning fell well short of taking the heat. On the verge of falling off tour, Wilkinson needs a good result in Portugal and surfed as such, locking in the highest heat score of the day with a 17.37.
"I feel like I'm competing well, hopefully I can keep doing it," said Wilkinson afterwards. "I love it here, getting barreled on a sandy bottom is the funnest thing you can do, and here's one of the best places in the world to do that.
As for the other players in title contention, Joel Parkinson, Taj Burrow and Jordy Smith all dominated their heats, looking very much all-in for the long haul. Should Slater and Fanning fail to make it out of Round 2 when competition resumes the world title race could take a very interesting and exciting turn. A five-man race going into Hawaii seemed improbable after the Quiksilver Pro France, but that could all be up in the air now.
Slater will face Portuguese wildcard Frederico Morais, while Fanning goes up against the other Portuguese wildcard Francisco Alves. The smart money would be on the top two surfers breezing through these heats, but wildcards can be tricky, especially when conditions can change as quickly as they do in Peniche.
Other notable on the day were rookies Sebastian Zietz , Felipe Toledo and Nat Young, who continue to perform well, winning their respective Round 1 heats. Toledo has definitely tightened up the Rookie of the Year race with his 3rd place finish in France, but Young seems to be refocused and ready to roll. Zietz is also in contention, so there is another race going on that has become very competitive. Combined they have been the most successful group of rookies in a while and a great addition to the tour.
According to forecast models the surf in Peniche will remain relatively small for the next few days, meaning that the Rip Curl Pro Portugal could go from a tube-riding shootout to an aerial dogfight.
RIP CURL PRO PORTUGAL ROUND 1 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Julian Wilson (AUS) 11.34, Fredrick Patacchia (HAW) 4.63, Yadin Nicol (AUS) 4.20
Heat 2: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 11.50, Raoni Monteiro (BRA) 6.53, Brett Simpson (USA) 4.93
Heat 3: Taj Burrow (AUS) 13.00, Travis Logie (ZAF) 7.77, Dillon Perillo (USA) 2.96
Heat 4: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 11.43, Frederico Morais (PRT) 9.16, Bede Durbidge (AUS) 5.90
Heat 5: Jacob Willcox (AUS) 13.07, Kelly Slater (USA) 9.60, Kolohe Andino (USA) 5.50
Heat 6: Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 17.37, Mick Fanning (AUS) 12.60, Francisco Alves (PRT) 7.56
Heat 7: Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 12.77, Michel Bourez (PYF) 12.07, Kieren Perrow (AUS) 3.73
Heat 8: Josh Kerr (AUS) 12.37, Alejo Muniz (BRA) 12.10, Jeremy Flores (FRA) 7.16
Heat 9: Filipe Toledo (BRA) 11.30, Damien Hobgood (USA) 10.50, Adriano De Souza (BRA) 9.83
Heat 10: Kai Otton (AUS) 11.40, Gabriel Medina (BRA) 5.63, Patrick Gudauskas (USA) 5.43
Heat 11: John John Florence (HAW) 13.66, Miguel Pupo (BRA) 13.24, C.J. Hobgood (USA) 2.37
Heat 12: Nat Young (USA) 8.77, Adam Melling (AUS) 7.66, Adrian Buchan (AUS) 6.47
UPCOMING RIP CURL PRO PORTUGAL ROUND 2 MATCH-UPS:
Heat 1: Mick Fanning (AUS) vs. Francisco Alves (PRT)
Heat 2: Kelly Slater (USA) vs. Frederico Morais (PRT)
Heat 3: Michel Bourez (PYF) vs. Dillon Perillo (USA)
Heat 4: Adriano De Souza (BRA) vs. Raoni Monteiro (BRA)
Heat 5: C.J. Hobgood (USA) vs. Yadin Nicol (AUS)
Heat 6: Adrian Buchan (AUS) vs. Kieren Perrow (AUS)
Heat 7: Gabriel Medina (BRA) vs. Alejo Muniz (BRA)
Heat 8: Jeremy Flores (FRA) vs. Damien Hobgood (USA)
Heat 9: Fredrick Patacchia (HAW) vs. Patrick Gudauskas (USA)
Heat 10: Brett Simpson (USA) vs. Miguel Pupo (BRA)
Heat 11: Travis Logie (ZAF) vs. Adam Melling (AUS)
Heat 12: Bede Durbidge (AUS) vs. Kolohe Andino (USA)