On the first day of competition at the Oi Rio Pro, the Brazilian Storm was in full effect at Barra da Tijuca. All but one Brazilian on the Championship Tour (CT) won their heats, each building on the success of the others. Despite the apparent pressure of competing on home turf, the athletes embraced the combination of high expectations and national pride that go with it.
The country's reigning World Champion, Gabriel Medina (BRA), did not disappoint. Competing in the fourth heat of the morning, crowds gathered as he crossed the beach and cheered as he paddled out. Though his performance lacked the fireworks of some other heats, he put together a 5.33 and a 7.00 to take the lead over Freddy Patacchia Jr. (HAW) and Alejo Muniz (BRA). Muniz, who competed on the CT in 2014, is surfing as the injury replacement for Michel Bourez.
After a decidedly lackluster start to the season -- Medina is currently ranked outside the Top 10 on the Jeep Leaderboard -- the heat was a needed success for the young phenom, who now advances directly to Round 3. In his post-heat interview, World Surf League (WSL) analyst and commentator Peter Mel asked him if his hometown crowd brought additional pressure.
"I feel good when there are people rooting for you," said Medina. "I'm at home, with all my family [and] that's my home break, so there's nothing that [makes me] feel pressured."
Rankings leader Adriano de Souza (BRA), meanwhile, was acutely aware of the weight on his shoulders in Rio, but also used it to his advantage. After handily winning his Round 1 heat he said, "I cannot pick a better spot to do this than my home town."
"I know it's very pressured for me at this stage, but I have some people behind me, supporting me a lot, and I want to say thank you so much," De Souza continued. "It just started, and [I'll try to] keep my momentum going. The Margs event for me was so special. But now we have another situation, and I have to do the exact same thing."
De Souza, a 10-year veteran of the Championship Tour, won the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro last month. His Round 1 heat in Rio -- which featured an 8.17 and a 9.73 -- is further evidence of his hard work and determination to win a World Title.
De Souza and Medina weren't the only heroes of the day though. Fellow Brazilians Jadson Andre (BRA) and Filipe Toledo (BRA) won their heats, the latter with a signature air show that appeased fans who have come to expect his high-performance approach. Even the rookies excelled, taking down titans in their respective heats: Italo Ferreira (BRA) had his first Round 1 heat win of the season, taking down Mick Fanning (AUS) in the process. Wiggolly Dantas (BRA) defeated a prince of progression, John John Florence (HAW), in Heat 3.
Other standouts from the men's first round included the original showman, Kelly Slater (USA), who didn't disappoint: A pair of tube rides that earned him two nine-point-range scores. At the end of the day, Australian Matt Wilkinson broke out some backhand theatrics to impress the growing crowd and defeat fellow Aussies Joel Parkinson and Owen Wright.