The EDP Vissla Ericeira Pro pres. by Estrella Galicia PT, Stop No.5 on the 2023 World Surf League (WSL) Challenger Series, continued today in fun, three-to-four foot surf and delivered an epic day of action. 

The men’s Round of 64 resumed with the remaining four heats at first this morning, before moving into the top seeded women’s Round of 32 and the first four heats of the men’s Round of 32. 

Big scores weren’t the norm in all heats, some grueling slow matchups came down to the wire but overall the Portuguese crowds witnessed exciting performances from some of the world’s best surfers aspiring to qualify for the Championship Tour.

Jacob Willcox Qualifies for 2024 Championship Tour

Currently ranked second on the Challenger Series on the back of an extremely consistent effort, Margaret River’s Jacob Willcox (AUS) is now officially qualified for the 2024 Championship Tour (CT). The goofy foot from Western Australia has already built a wealth of experience at the highest level through 13 previous CT wildcard appearances in various locations around the globe. Having come close to qualifying numerous times, Willcox has now fulfilled a life-long dream and will be a major threat in his rookie season among the world ‘s best surfers in 2024. 

“I’m just so happy on actually qualifying it’s been such a long journey,” Willcox reflected. “So many heartbreaks, so many times I’ve come so close and I feel like it probably wouldn’t feel so good without all that, so it’s very rewarding. This is the best job ever, I get to travel the world with some of my best mates, it’s so fun and I’m so grateful to be able to surf in some good waves next year.”

In Willcox’ heat this morning, local wildcard Joaquim Chaves (POR) posted a big upset taking the second advancing spot ahead of Joel Vaughan (AUS) and CT surfer Maxime Huscenot (FRA). The winner of the first Challenger of the year Samuel Pupo (BRA) advanced into the Round of 32 as well earlier this morning, alongside rising French threat Marco Mignot (FRA), qualification hopefuls Jake Marshall (USA) and Kade Matson (USA), as well as Alejo Muniz (BRA) and Jabe Swierkocki (USA).

Fitzgibbons Inches Closer to Completing Comeback Story

In true Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) form, the current rankings leader came out swinging in her first Ribeira heat to post two high 6s and march on to the Round of 16. The former runner-up in the world has been vocal about getting inspired competing among the younger generations as she looks to complete her comeback to the Championship Tour this week and hopes to do so with a win, something that has somehow eluded her in a season where she reached the Final twice.

“Winning is always the goal for anyone in the draw so it’s just the fact that it’s really really hard,” Fitzgibbons said. “Everyone wants it and you have to try and dig deep to find that desire. That’s the cool thing about being back on the Challengers, I have to find that desire I had 15 years ago as a rookie. All you have to do is paddle out for the early warm-up surf, there’s like a hundred of the best young surfers in the world going for it in one foot waves. That energy is what you have to capture.”

Nichols Fumbles as Tour Leaders March Through Women’s Round of 32

The Round of 32 was a walk in the park for the Top 5 women on the Challenger Series rankings, except Isabella Nichols (AUS) who inexplicably was off rhythm in a low scoring heat and bowed out early. Fitzgibbons paved the way, Bronte Macaulay (AUS) followed suit and Luana Silva (BRA), India Robinson (AUS), Sawyer Lindblad (USA) stepped up with big performances.

Robinson’s requalifying effort cut short last year seems to have fired up the powerful regular foot from Jan Juc as she came back to the Challenger Series with a vengeance, taking out the first event on the Gold Coast. Currently sitting fourth, this week is a golden opportunity at a wave affectionately known as the Portuguese Bells Beach.

“I’m bummed I missed out last year after sustaining an injury so it’s really good to be back this year,” Robinson said. “The atmosphere around here is amazing and it reminds me a lot of my homebreak at Bells so I feel comfortable and like I have a good connection with it. At the moment I’m grateful to be healthy and able to compete and I’m enjoying every step of the way and I hope to get back on tour.”

The 2021 winner in Ericeira, Silva found her groove early and matched the rhythm of the wave beautifully to go excellent with an 8.33 (out of a possible 10), backed up with a solid 6.27. Currently right on the bubble at spot No.7 in the rankings, Silva’s previous winning experience at Ribeira d’Ilhas could come in handy as the Brazilian looks to make it back on tour after falling to the Mid-season cut in her rookie effort last year.

“This wave reminds me of some places at home and I just have a lot of fun surfing here so I’m happy to be back,” Silva said. “Obviously in the back of my head is CT qualification and I still have a shot at that so that’s my goal at the end of the year. I’m just trying to put my head down and focus but also enjoy the moment at the same time.”

Sawyer Lindblad (USA)’s performance in the round’s final heat was some of the best seen all day, only eclipsed by an even hotter display by Zoe Benedetto(USA). The Floridian, already a standout on the opening day, posted two more excellent 8 point rides and looks like the pacesetter in Ericeira this week. 

Portuguese Duo Fires Up Local Crowds

One of the most entertaining heats of the women’s Round of 32 was an intense battle between qualification hopefuls Vahine Fierro (FRA) and Teresa Bonvalot (POR), and rising stars Francisca Veselko (POR) and Erin Brooks (CAN). Veselko got a big score right away and looked very comfortable even as time passed and she needed a backup. Behind her, everyone was sitting on medium numbers and when a set of waves rolled through in the dying moments, everyone got a piece of the action. 

Veselko comforted her lead and the judges had a long reflection looking at three goofy footers absolutely ripping on their backhand. Scores eventually dropped as all surfers were patiently awaiting their fate on the beach and Bonvalot got the nod with a 7.77 to take the second advancing spot behind her compatriot.

Silva, Houshmand’s Backhands Continue to Dominate at Ribeira

The two form surfers of yesterday, Deivid Silva (BRA) and Cole Houshmand(USA) continued to demonstrate their superiority in the running rights of Ribeira as the pair posted some of the event’s biggest scores. Silva’s 9 point ride is the first of its kind this week, and Houshmand’s 15.40 heat total (out of a possible 20) is up there with the best so far. 

They will be joined in the Round of 16 by the likes of Jackson Baker (AUS), Frederico Morais (POR), Dylan Moffat (AUS), Reef Heazlewood (AUS), Justin Becret (FRA) and Dimitri Poulos (USA) who also advanced out of the Round of 32 later this afternoon.

The next call will be at 8 am GMT+1 on Thursday, October 5, 2023 at Ribeira d’Ilhas in expected similar conditions.

HEAT 1: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 13.60 DEF. Daniella Rosas (PER) 10.90, Kobie Enright (AUS) 8.97, Ariane Ochoa (EUK) 7.17
HEAT 2: Luana Silva (BRA) 14.60 DEF. Nadia Erostarbe (EUK) 12.93, Sarah Baum (RSA) 9.50, Natasha Van Greunen (RSA) 6.33
HEAT 3: Bronte Macaulay (AUS) 13.37 DEF. Tessa Thyssen (FRA) 12.23, Zahli Kelly (AUS) 11.74, Sophia Medina (BRA) 10.00
HEAT 4: India Robinson (AUS) 15.53 DEF. Bella Kenworthy (USA) 13.00, Nikki Van Dijk (AUS) 11.73, Nanaho Tsuzuki (JPN) 9.17
HEAT 5: Sophie McCulloch (AUS) 10.43 DEF. Sol Aguirre (PER) 10.33, Zoe McDougall (HAW) 7.87, Isabella Nichols (AUS) 3.63
HEAT 6: Ellie Harrison (AUS) 11.93 DEF. Alyssa Spencer (USA) 11.83, Anon Matsuoka (JPN) 6.44, Pauline Ado (FRA) 6.00
HEAT 7: Francisca Veselko (POR) 13.70 DEF. Teresa Bonvalot (POR) 13.27, Vahine Fierro (FRA) 11.53, Erin Brooks (CAN) 11.40
HEAT 8: Zoe Benedetto (USA) 16.00 DEF. Sawyer Lindblad (USA) 15.53, Laura Raupp (BRA) 12.77, Macy Callaghan (AUS) 11.43

HEAT 1: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) vs. Nadia Erostarbe (EUK)
HEAT 2: Luana Silva (BRA) vs. Daniella Rosas (PER)
HEAT 3: Bronte Macaulay (AUS) vs. Bella Kenworthy (USA)
HEAT 4: India Robinson (AUS) vs. Tessa Thyssen (FRA)
HEAT 5: Sophie McCulloch (AUS) vs. Alyssa Spencer (USA)
HEAT 6: Ellie Harrison (AUS) vs. Sol Aguirre (PER)
HEAT 7: Francisca Veselko (POR) vs. Sawyer Lindblad (USA)
HEAT 8: Zoe Benedetto (USA) vs. Teresa Bonvalot (POR)

HEAT 13: Jacob Willcox (AUS) 12.50 DEF. Joaquim Chaves (POR) 12.00, Joel Vaughan (AUS) 9.34, Maxime Huscenot (FRA) 4.80
HEAT 14: Samuel Pupo (BRA) 13.20 DEF. Marco Mignot (FRA) 11.40, Carlos Munoz (CRC) 10.97, John Mark Tokong (PHL) 9.80
HEAT 15: Jake Marshall (USA) 15.47 DEF. Kade Matson (USA) 11.74, Alister Reginato (AUS) 8.03, Joh Azuchi (JPN) 4.84
HEAT 16: Jabe Swierkocki (USA) 13.50 DEF. Alejo Muniz (BRA) 13.40, Nat Young (USA) 6.77, Matthew McGillivray (RSA) 5.17

HEAT 1: Deivid Silva (BRA) 16.23 DEF. Jackson Baker (AUS) 15.07, Keanu Asing (HAW) 12.10, Hiroto Ohhara (JPN) 11.24
HEAT 2: Cole Houshmand (USA) 15.40 DEF. Dylan Moffat (AUS) 12.73, George Pittar (AUS) 11.33, Tenshi Iwami (JPN) 11.10
HEAT 3: Reef Heazlewood (AUS) 11.17 DEF. Frederico Morais (POR) 11.10, Kian Martin (SWE) 8.64, Leo Casal (BRA) 8.50
HEAT 4: Justin Becret (FRA) 14.50 DEF. Dimitri Poulos (USA) 12.83, Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) 11.70, Eithan Osborne (USA) 10.90

HEAT 5: Adin Masencamp (RSA) vs. Michael Rodrigues (BRA) vs. Ryan Kainalo (BRA) vs. Imaikalani deVault (HAW)
HEAT 6: Jackson Bunch (HAW) vs. Ian Gouveia (BRA) vs. Kauli Vaast (FRA) vs. Mateus Herdy (BRA)
HEAT 7: Jacob Willcox (AUS) vs. Samuel Pupo (BRA) vs. Kade Matson (USA) vs. Alejo Muniz (BRA)
HEAT 8: Joaquim Chaves (POR) vs. Marco Mignot (FRA) vs. Jake Marshall (USA) vs. Jabe Swierkocki (USA)


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