Okay, now we're cooking. It's the fourth event of the year so you should be getting a feel for not only the surfers but how to play this game. You know the old saying, "horses for courses"? This is no different. It's time to clean up your roster and make way for the whipper snappers on this year's Championship Tour (CT).
I know what you're thinking: Last year Michel "the Spartan" Bourez, a far cry from a whippersnapper, won the event. But we're looking at playing the odds, people, Bourez is out with an injury and the odds this year favor the surfers who will punch, float and fly in the tricky beachbreak of Barra da Tijuca. The tight, fast waves at Barra makes it difficult for the guys who prefer to draw out their lines and rely on large open faces to move.
The X-factor here is motivation. Sandwiched between contests at The Box and Fiji, guys need to find a way to muster the energy to match the vibe in Brazil. So, base your picks on two things: Technique -- agility and quickness -- and surfers who are focused on being present in Brazil and nowhere else.
Tier A: Filipe Toledo (BRA)
I know: Captain Obvious. But you have to give credit where credit is due. "Filly" has pretty much everything it takes to best the field in Rio. Speed, air game, power, energy, motivation, mojo and home crowd advantage all play in his favor. Toledo will have many chances to launch airs in Rio's abundance of waves. He also doesn't need a lot of space to pull big scores out of thin air, so to speak.
All your picks should have a knack for catching a lot of waves. Surfers like Filipe will be comfortable knowing that they will have plenty of opportunities to get out of trouble if their opponents get a quick lead. Plus, I can't wait to watch the freak-fest on the beach when he jumps in the water. Start 'em.
Tier B: Gabriel Medina (BRA)
Let's just tick all the same boxes as above. He may be a touch slower on the face, but he makes up for it with a feeling of urgency to join the show that Filipe has been putting on. I'm guessing Medina will be extra fired-up in Brazil now that some of his buddies have quickly stolen his thunder in 2015. Adriano de Souza will be another definite threat, but the contest will be a platform for dudes who are leading the circus act, not the ratings. The waves in Rio will allow Gabriel to get back to what makes him smile: Big airs and heat wins. The punchy beachbreak will allow him to reconnect with his creative side, which should translate into a Semifinal finish at least. Start 'em.
Tier C: Kolohe Andino (USA)
Brazil is where Kolohe found his groove in 2014. Not only did he grab his best CT finish (runner-up), he unveiled a vicious backside attack. I hesitate to keep beating the air drum, but Brother will be keen to mix it up with the "Brazilian Storm." He'll keep the backside flare going while boosting on the quick ramps. Much like Medina, Kolohe has gotten off to a slow start this year, which should keep him motivated to get the ball rolling in Rio. Start 'em.
Tier A: Taj Burrow (AUS)
I actually like Taj's chances in Rio, just not as much as the chances of Filipe, ADS or John John Florence. The veteran Aussie has been at the forefront of progressive surfing for many years, but so far this year he's been content to compete with his board in the water rather than boosting. Taj has gotten off to a great start in 2015, almost ensuring himself a spot on Tour next year. Motivation will be something to look at going forward, but I say this with caution as Taj is forever a surf-stoked grom: Sit 'em.
Tier B: Freddy Patacchia Jr. (HAW)
Freddy brings it to any event he suits up for. It's never going to be an issue of passion or motivation for him. Can he grab a heat win in Brazil? Absolutely. But I think he's at a disadvantage with the style of surfing that he relies on. Freddy shines in waves where he can draw out his lines and huck a lot of spray. The waves in Rio might cramp his style with their dumpy shape and tight transitions. For that reason you should sit 'em.
Tier C: C.J. Hobgood (USA)
Facing Wiggolly Dantas (BRA) and Gabriel in Round 1 has to weigh on C.J.'s mind. Both those guys are going to be breathing fire in Brazil, exploding on every wave they catch. C.J. will need to find another gear to do battle with the kids on Tour if he wants to keep up with them in Rio. We all know how incredibly well he can surf -- he's been a World Champ for crying out loud! -- but he's been missing a bit of speed and flare in 2015. Come Fiji, Tahiti and Pipe, C.J. will be the guy showing the younger generation how it's done in the heavy stuff. But for now you might want to start the young guns. Sit 'em.
Dusty Payne (HAW)
Everyone was put on notice when Dusty destroyed his first round heat on the Gold Coast. It was a nice way to display the new and improved Dusty Payne, but it has been tough going for the Hawaiian ever since. Even though Dusty doesn't draw the tightest arch on Tour, I think his power and, more importantly, his fearless progressive style, will give him a much-needed win against Taj and Jadson Andre in Round 1, potentially igniting a long-overdue victory for the buff ripper. Start 'em.
Ross Williams spent 10 years as a CT competitor. Currently, he's a WSL analyst and contributes a Fantasy surfing column before each event on the elite Tour, as well as provides up-to-date Fantasy intel each morning at 7:00 a.m. local time on the Dawn Patrol Morning Show. Follow Ross Williams on Twitter (@rosswilliamshi) and Instagram (@rosswilliamshawaii).