After a few days off for the Top 17, Round 2 kicked off Saturday at the Oi Rio Women's Pro. Conditions were punchy and rippable and Rio was ready to dole out a mix of saying tchau (that's big goodbyes!) and high-performance surfing. While some of the so-called usual suspects pushed through -- think World No. 4 Tyler Wright (AUS) and Jeep rankings leader Carissa Moore (HAW) -- the absence of six-time World Champ Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) left the door wide open for new faces to advance.
Wright, of course, was an early standout, easily defeating wildcard Luana Coutinho. Once Wright found her mojo there was no stopping her. She broke out her power-hacks on a lefthand closeout to score a 9.00, leaving Coutinho in the proverbial dust.
Coming up against the wildcard, said Wright, was "scary. I've been in Round 2 a lot this year, and I've been in that [wildcard] position so many times. I know how freeing it is to have nothing to lose at all.
"The conditions are fun, kind of perfect for the girls," she continued. "I give so much credit to the guys for making it look so damn good [yesterday]. It's incredible what they do; it's amazing how hard and tricky it is out there." (Among the guys making it look good was Wright's brother Owen, No. 9 on the men's Jeep rankings.)
Among the day's less-usual suspects who lit up Postinho was Hawaiian Malia Manuel. A surfer whose ability has never been in question, she doesn't always bring her game face to the water. But on Saturday, Manuel was fired up and intent on success. She took down Laura Enever (AUS) in Round 2, and dominated again in Round 3 to advance directly to the Quarters.
Round 3 opened with a battle among Keely Andrew (AUS), the injury replacement for Gilmore, Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) and Lakey Peterson (USA). Fitzgibbons surfs every heat to win, and this one -- despite being a non-elimination round -- was no exception. She laid into the punchy beachbreak to steadily build a scoreline and lead the heat.
But in a rare turn of events, soon it was Peterson who was earning the big scores instead of the competitive Aussie. Not only was Fitzgibbons on the ropes, but comboed -- a situation where she needed two new scores to have a shot at overtaking the leader. Like Manuel, Peterson is hugely talented and impressive above the lip, but doesn't always shine when it matters most.
Round 4 capped off the day of grandes upsets with an exclamation point. From Bianca Buitendag (ZAF) eliminating Fitzgibbons to Andrew defeating Johanne Defay (FRA), it was as if the women saved all their energy for the final effort. The afternoon's other two victors were Coco Ho (HAW), who will compete in her first Semifinal this year, and Courtney Conlogue (USA), who's still got that winning feeling from last month's event at Margaret River.
Tune in at 7:00 a.m. local time Sunday for the next call and, just maybe, the Quarterfinals with its cast of fresh faces.