Blame It On Rio – Billabong Rio Pro, 2014 Preview
Blame It On Rio
By Sean Doherty
The circus of our favourite sport has packed up the tents, pulled down the scaffolding, and flown away from the shores of Australia to set up at Stop No.4 for the year in another city, country, continent. That being Rio, Brazil, South America for the Billabong Rio Pro. With the event due to start this evening (the Dawn Patrol morning show begins at 8pm EST, so expect some late evenings) we had Mr. Sean Doherty give us a detailed breakdown of what we can expect from such an event.
At the start of the year I had Julian Wilson pegged as my world title favourite and I still think he’s good for it, although after Bells the jury is deliberating. Over the past 12 months he’s logged a world title worthy performance at pretty much every tour stop and has grown in leaps and bounds as a surfer. Bells was just about the last one to tick off, and lost in the brouhaha about Jordy’s imperfect 10 was the fact Jules surfed the house down to beat him. He’d worked the place out, drew great lines in the Bowl, and surfed like a man. Sadly, it was a case of three steps forward and two steps back as his surfing was overshadowed by his blow up after losing to Mick Fanning in the semi-finals. Contrary to what he thought at the time, the beach announcers didn’t cost him the heat, Mick Fanning cost him the heat. As he stood there venting I imagined for a minute how Mick Fanning – a three-time world champ – might have handled the same situation. Storming the tower in front of the cameras and arguing a heat you clearly lost might make you feel better, but it’s not going to help you in the long run. World titles are won as much by a charm offensive as by anything else, by inviting people into the goodtime bus and taking them along with you for the ride. I challenge you to name me a world champ who surfed their way through the season arguing technicalities, surfing to a rulebook, and letting anything else other than their surfing be remembered. Julian wasn’t alone at Bells. Gabe Medina trying to churrasco Bede Durbidge with the nose of his board to score an interference left a bad taste. In contrast, Jordy walked the stairs at Bells after losing to Julian, drank the concrete milkshake, and graciously accepted he didn’t get the score. Across the broad brushstroke of the season, that’s going to work in Jordy’s favour.
Gabe Medina’s win at Snapper in the first event of the season seemed to be the first line in a prophecy. So unlikely was his Snapper win – the first Brazilian, the first backhander in a decade, the first young guy since Mick and Joel were his age – that you felt it heralded the start of something bigger… and believe it, nothing would be bigger than a Brazilian winning the world title. In just over a month Rio is hosting the soccer World Cup. In two years time the Olympics are in town. The energy around the place is compelling, and there’s a palpable sense – along with a socio-economic and geo-political one – that the world is changing, and it might even change so radically this year that a Brazilian might end up as the world surfing champion, and that champion might be Gabriel Medina.
But like Julian, Gabe will need to keep his head. Allowing himself to be paddled to Centreside and back by Adriano de Souza at Bells and getting totally lost in the process tells you that he’s still got a lot to learn. The old dogs on tour will work Gabe over when he gets to Fiji, Tahiti and J-Bay, but here in Rio, this is his yard. If he can get a big crowd on the beach, the judges will have a hard time arguing a case against him. Gabe will be the big story in Rio, although the only thing working against him might be the forecast.
As Christ The Redeemer is my witness, there will actually be a few waves for this most maligned of beachbreak events. The early part of the waiting period is under the influence of a strong system already headed toward Capetown, and the event is very likely to run earlier in the waiting period rather than later. In terms of what we might see at Barra da Tijuca, it’s more likely we’ll get the barreling sandbar rights, and this may not be great news for Gabe. The rights tend to glorified closeouts breaking on dry sand, making life tough for backhand boosters. Being several thousand miles from Rio I can’t give you a granular assessment of the banks, but on that stretch of beach they tend to be pretty straight.
The rest of the girl’s field had two gilded chances at Bells to slow Carissa Moore’s inevitable march to another world title. Helped by a slow ocean, both Sally Fitzgibbons and Tyler Wright went within a squeak of beating Carissa, which would have given the ratings a completely different look. Instead Carissa held her nerve and rang the bell and took a commanding lead in the ratings. If someone is going to catch her it has to start in Brazil. Another Carissa win would see daylight second, but the two lowest seeds – Silvana Lima and Tatiana Weston-Webb, at least one of whom she’s likely to meet in the draw – could test her. The girls’ tour doesn’t have the same history of wildcard upsets the guys’ tour has, but in Silvana there is potential for something anomalous to happen in Rio.
Millions of Brazillions
The crowds for the Rio event in years past have been diabolically small. Remember, this is a surfing mad country, and you’re hosting a surfing contest in a surfing-mad city featuring a bunch of Brazilian surfers who all have a good chance of winning it. We’ve seen the rising tide of a Rio crowd float the boats of Adriano and Jadson Andre to victories here in the past. For the new ASP, the Rio event is a portal to the huge markets of South America, while being the first event of the season where they’ll actually be in a prime-time for their beloved US audience. While the surfers surf the event under sufferance, it’s a big one for the ASP brass, and along with bums on sand they will also need to get the broadcast right. It’s a venue that in the past has thrown up a few challenges to getting a hot signal out. I hark back to the year the ASP realised they’d flown all the way to Brazil and had forgotten to take a commentator, so enlisted colourful cameraman John “Gordo” Gordon, who did an admirable job, the most admirable part being he managed to call the whole contest without referring to anyone as a banchong. Then there was the year someone backed the OB van into a palm tree and they lost half a day of the broadcast as a result. Stay tuned.
For a guy with several trillion flying miles over the course of his life, I reckon this flight to Rio will be just about the longest of Kelly Slater’s life. Kelly gets claustrophobic on uninhabited islands, so parachute him into the middle of the hustle of Rio de Janeiro and you might understand why he has never really surfed this event unless he’s absolutely, positively had to. Well, this year he has to. It’s his tour now. And despite making the quarters at Bells, his performance was sub-par and he heads to Brazil with a formline that screams, well, hmmm. He is however fifth in the ratings, and as he sits at the pointy end of the plane en route to Rio you can bet your life he has a copy of the tour schedule in his hands and is seeing the schedule after Rio reads Fiji, J-Bay, Tahiti, Trestles.
Felipe, Miguel & Adriano
Lost amidst all the Gabbymania is the fact that these three guys have all surfed incredibly at certain points this season. When aerial acid-cat Felipe Toledo paddles out at The Box and charges and goes within a whisker of beating Parko, you know there’s something going on. We’ve all been talking about Gabe, but don’t be surprised if one of these guys becomes the big story in Rio.
Okay, for the girls I’m taking Carissa. Having watched her surf in knee-high mush at Manly this year and completely tear holes in the fabric of space and time, I left convinced there are very, very few weaknesses in her surfing. As for the guys, I’m taking a Brazilian but not the one you think. Love him or not, Adriano de Souza just keeps finding ways to win when you least expect it. Adriano doesn’t need a reason. The customs department at Rio airport have done him no favours, confiscating his boards for days when he arrived home from Australia, but that’s the sort of thing that’s actually going to light a fire under him.
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