With the (long) Australian leg having wrapped up, the ladies of the Championship Tour (CT) got to go home, swap out their 7'0s for small-wave boards, trade heavy wetsuits for bikinis, sleep in their own beds and hit refresh.
Unfortunately, one of the most competitive surfers on the Top 17 -- World No. 3 Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) -- has had to withdraw from the Oi Rio Women's Pro due to an injury she suffered while freesurfing in Western Australia. Besides being one of my favorite surfers to watch, I was looking forward to seeing if she could redeem herself after last year's Round 2 exit at the hands of Silvana Lima, then an event wildcard. Steph's absence also shakes up our Fantasy tiers. Let's get into the start-sit scenarios for Rio:
Tier A: Carissa Moore (HAW)
Yes: Carissa, again. It's so hard not to pick her after she's made 3 of 3 Finals this year. She has two wins and a second-place finish so far. Plus, she made the Final in Rio last year. This lady is on a roll. The only thing that can hinder her in Brazil could be the banks and the consistency of the peaks on the long beachbreaks. Carissa is a smart competitor, but if there is no opportunity in the water, there isn't much a competitor can do.
Tier B: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS)
Sally Fitz is unbelievably consistent. She is always a contender for a win in any event and consistently posts high heat totals. She took the victory over Carissa in Rio last year and backed that win up with another in Fiji, which shows her range in any conditions. Sal has done a lot of work on her power-surfing and she is lethal on her backhand, something we have yet to see with all the righthand point venues of the Australian leg. I look forward to watching her hunting down peaks in the Rio beachbreaks and dismantling the waves there.
Tier C: Sage Erickson (USA)
Sage is my pick for Tier C! I think her surfing will suit the punchy beachbreaks. I also think she is due for a break, after her buzzer-beater loss to Joanne Defay at the Drug Aware Pro. She surfed really well in similar conditions in the Hurley Australian Open QS event earlier this year and her ability to find nuggets will go a long way in this contest. Similar to Sally, Sage on a lefthand punch-fest is a lot of fun to watch.
Tier A: Tyler Wright (AUS)
There is no solid reason to sit Tyler, and I think she'll finish in the top 3 of this event. But having to pick between Tyler and Courtney Conlogue (USA), I had to give the nod to Court. She had to watch this event from the couch last year in a space-boot for her ankle and in years prior she was consistently in the Quarters. After victory in Margaret River, she has had a taste of winning and isn't about to give it up now. Word to the wise, though: Tyler made the Semis at this event last year, so the choice is yours.
Tier B: Johanne Defay (FRA)
This is the toughest tier to single anyone out. Johanne has been one of the best additions to the women's Championship Tour and had one of the best turns, in my opinion, at the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro. Her rookie season last year got off to a slow start before she gained momentum at the Lowers event and requalified in the top 10. However, she finished 13th in this event last year and this tier is cutthroat. Based on last year's result, I am sitting her.
Tier C: Keely Andrew (AUS)
Another tough tier to sit someone! I've seen Keely Andrew surf a few times, she was the wildcard last year at Snapper and she did really well in the Qualifying Series event in New Zealand. She surfs fast, can get radical and has a pleasing style. But I think all the other girls in this tier are aware of how low they are sitting on the rankings and that will get them fired up to push through the rounds and make Rio count. Keely will also be coming into this at the bottom of the rankings which means a tough draw against top seeds.
Dark Horse: Silvana Lima (BRA)
Silvana is not really a dark horse -- she's more of a unicorn and an easy pick to blitz the field. She's comfortable at home and will be surrounded by all the familiar things that come with competing there. Having said all that, her past results in Rio have left a lot to be desired, but the 2015 Silvana Lima is surfing at a new level.
Rosy Hodge (ZAF) competed on the World Surf League (WSL) Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour (CT) from 2007-2010, before joining the WSL broadcast team. She weighs in on who she thinks should round out your Women's Fantasy Surfing lineup ahead of each CT event.