As the ASP World Tour pulls into Brazil this week the world title race is wide open. With two different winners in the first two events, anything goes at the contest that is typically one of the most challenging events of the year due to the extremely unpredictable beachbreaks that can change from peak to peak in a matter of minutes. In order to be successful in this event one has to be ready to adapt to any conditions, from one-foot lefts at Arpoador to shifting, dumping barrels at Barra de Tijuca.
Arpoador is a left that breaks off a rock point, creating side wedges and backwash that make it really hard to pick the right waves. The wave is mushy and bouncy with a dumpy inside shore break. While the other potential contest site, Barra de Tijuca, can break a million different ways, which makes it one of the most confusing spots to choose equipment for. It all depends on how the sandbars are formed, and every year it's completely different, ranging from violent dumping barrels to rip tide, re-form waves that push and pull all over the place.
Last year John Florence showed he could adapt to all conditions as he beat Joel Parkinson in the final to take his first world tour victory. Still struggling with the ankle injury he sustained at the Quiksilver Pro, Florence has officially pulled out of the event and will not be defending his title.
"I am going to take my time and wait for my ankle to heal 100% before competing," said Florence in his statement to the ASP. "I am looking forward to being healthy and ready for Fiji and the rest of the year."
Somebody that certainly will be ready to go come game time is Adriano de Souza. Coming off of his recent win at Bells Beach, he will undoubtedly be feeling confident and ready to perform for his home country.
"Winning Bells was really emotional, and it's really inspirational to be back here and see my friends," De Souza said. "I'm happy to be from here and it makes me value and enjoy everything I have today. If you come from the favela, you give it everything you have. I saw examples from the soccer guys who turned pro and knew I could do it with surfing if I put in the hard work. When I became a pro surfer, it allowed me to bring my family to a better place."
De Souza will be leading a pack of very talented, very hungry Brazilians who also have the desire to win. Filipe Toledo has been showing a lot of maturity and progressive control in the first two events of his rookie year and will definitely be one to watch for. Like Florence, X Games Real Surf vote getter Gabriel Medina also suffered a minor ankle injury in the first event of the year, but was able to surf Bells and put up a good result. Medina has yet to put in the performance we all know he's capable of this year and I'm sure he is hungry for a win in his home country. I could easily see an all Brazilian final.
And then there's Kelly Slater. The 11-time world champ is still in the number one spot on the rankings, despite losing in the early rounds of Bells. Slater pulled out of the Brazil event last year and many have speculated that could have cost him the title, so I'm sure he will be focused on making the most of his time in Brazil by posting a result that will help his title campaign. If Slater can get a good result in Brazil and create some momentum heading into Fiji, it could be bad news for the rest of the contenders.
Brazil has a history of creating problems for Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson. This will be a key event for them to do well in. We know they'll both come prepared, but their successes could depend on who they draw in the early rounds. The young Brazilian contingency will be fired up to take down all opposing forces on their home turf, especially when it comes to beating world champs.
I honestly think the surfers that really have control over their progressive repertoire will have an advantage in this event. Florence's backside air in the final last year clinched it for him, and I can easily see progression playing a key role in this year's event as well. Jordy Smith, Julian Wilson, Josh Kerr, Nat Young and Kolohe Andino are all looking in form right now and any one of them could rise up and take the win if they are able to put it all together.
BILLABONG RIO PRO ROUND 1 MATCH-UPS:
Heat 1: Josh Kerr (AUS), Alejo Muniz (BRA), Patrick Gudauskas (USA)
Heat 2: Adriano de Souza (BRA), Matt Wilkinson (AUS), Yadin Nicol (AUS)
Heat 3: Taj Burrow (AUS), Sebastian Zietz (HAW), TBD
Heat 4: Mick Fanning (AUS), Filipe Toledo (BRA), TBD
Heat 5: Joel Parkinson (AUS), Miguel Pupo (BRA), TBD
Heat 6: Kelly Slater (USA), Kieren Perrow (AUS), TBD
Heat 7: Julian Wilson (AUS), Travis Logie (ZAF), Glenn Hall (IRL)
Heat 8: Gabriel Medina (BRA), Damien Hobgood (USA), Dusty Payne (HAW)
Heat 9: Jeremy Flores (FRA), Nat Young (USA), Raoni Monteiro (BRA)
Heat 10: Jordy Smith (ZAF), Kai Otton (AUS), Adam Melling (AUS)
Heat 11: Michel Bourez (PYF), Bede Durbidge (AUS), Brett Simpson (USA)
Heat 12: C.J. Hobgood (USA), Adrian Buchan (AUS), Kolohe Andino (USA)