By Philip O'Connor
TOKYO (Reuters) -Brazil's Italo Ferriera put on a fearless display of aerial surfing to beat New Zealand's Billy Stairmand and book his spot in Tuesday's Olympic quarter-finals after a turbulent day of head-to-head surfing in tough conditions.
The unpredictable, messy waves made many of the competitors look like they were trying to surf in a washing machine for most of the day, as they bobbed around on their boards looking for winning waves that never came.
True to his nature, world no.1 Ferriera attacked the ocean in his heat, landing his aerial tricks in choppy waters to catch the eye of the judges and throw down a marker to the rest of the field.
"Sometimes we didn't find a good wall to do two or three big turns, and that's why I'm going to the air, it's a manoeuvre that's more impressive ... it's a good shot to use in a heat, and that's why I'm in the quarter-finals," he told reporters.
Australia's Owen Wright also excelled as he beat Jeremy Flores of France in Monday's final heat.
On a day when wave selection was difficult and consistent ones proved hard to come by, other big names were not so lucky, with seven-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore of Australia crashing out in the first heat of the day.
"That's just the nature of surfing, sometimes the waves are there, sometimes the waves are not," Gilmore said of her shock loss to South African outsider Bianca Buitendag.
Gilmore was left ruing her decision to let a promising wave pass to her opponent, with Buitendag jumping on it and notching a score of 7.10 that decided the heat.
"I looked at that wave and I was like, 'It doesn't look that good', so I let her have it and she turned it into a seven, so that was the most frustrating thing to me - like, man, I should have just taken that wave," Gilmore, 33, said.
Another big name whose gold medal hopes were beached was American John John Florence. He was defeated by his compatriot Kolohe Andino, who hit a high score on his opening wave to take a commanding lead that he never relinquished.
"It was definitely hard to find good waves. There's waves coming from every direction right now, and so it's hard to find one with an open face to it," said Florence, who made a speedy recovery from an ACL tear to make it to Tokyo.
Local favourite Kanoa Igarashi, whose father learned to surf on the Tsurigasaki beach, found the conditions more to his liking as he beat Rio Waida of Indonesia to book his spot in the quarter-finals.
"This is classic Japanese typhoon swell, and although it may look really tough, it's actually really fun. Knowing there's a lot of opportunities for us, it's relieving for a surfer ... the waves will definitely come," the 23-year-old told reporters.
(Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Michael Perry and Hugh Lawson)