First off, Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers, grandmothers, aunties and hanai mamas out there. You may not hear it as much as you should, but I’m sure you are appreciated more than you will ever know.
It’s fitting that the Oi Rio Pro is currently running, because I think of my grandma every time it rolls around. The word “oy” is basically her most used phrase, for its adaptability and versatility. By the same token, Championship Tour surfers need to be adaptable and versatile to be successful at the Saquarema breaks of Rio because the waves can be less than ideal. Such was the case for the first round of women’s action, but the favorites all managed to handle themselves well as the top six seeds each won their opening heats to move directly to round three.
Sally Fitzgibbons, Tyler Wright, Stephanie Gilmore, Lakey Peterson, Carissa Moore and Tatiana Weston-Webb made the best of the small surf to outpoint their opponents. Moore’s 13.67 two-wave total was tops in the round, followed by Tati’s 13.16.
Rio is typically an unpredictable event. The top finishers can come from any part of the draw. Wright took the title last year for her only victory of what would be a championship season. But Johanne Defay took second, Nikki Van Dijk made the semifinals, Bianca Buitendag and Keely Andrew made the quarters so it’s been mostly tough going for the favorites. It feels a little more like a Qualifying Series event because of the size of the waves and the QS events held there in recent years.
Fitzgibbons, always a consistent finisher in Brazil, could be poised to make the biggest move on the women’s ladder. She enters the event tied for 10th place with Silvana Lima and Malia Manuel. Though she has fared exceptionally well in the past at the old Rio location — reaching five finals in six seasons — she made the semifinals last year. With the standings more bunched than usual with the Margaret River cancellation, a good result for her here will vault her up the leaderboard.
Rio was a big event for the Brazilians last season, with Adriano de Souza taking the title and Yago Dora reaching the semifinals in his CT debut. Now a full-timer on tour, Dora hasn’t had a big result yet this year, so returning home could be just the boost he needs.
The elite regular footers have been the dominant force in Rio of late, with de Souza, John John Florence, Filipe Toledo and Michel Bourez having won the past four years in Brazil. So for someone like Gabriel Medina to also thrive in his home nation, the goofy footer will need to break that trend. But I’d be surprised if Medina is able to truly shine on this wave. It’s certainly built more for someone like Toledo to take advantage of his aerial abilities.
Hopefully the waves improve and we get some great action on both sides of the draw as the 2018 CT season resurfaces in Rio.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.