By Saturday's Quarterfinals at Barra da Tijuca, Friday's coraÃ§Ãµes partidos were healed and fans were fired up again for the Oi Rio Pro. After many of the Tour's heavy-hitters were eliminated, just three Brazilians remained in contention and their respective heats saw the most excitement in the water and out.
Starting with the QF1, the crowd practically enveloped Filipe Toledo as he jogged out. Within minutes, he delivered what they wanted: He was airborne, landing cleanly and hacking up the inside for an 8.33. Toledo had a formidable opponent in rookie Ricardo Christie (NZL), the gentle giant-slayer. On Friday he had shifted into a newfound, competitive gear, defeating Jeep rankings leader Adriano de Souza (BRA) and rookie Matt Banting (AUS).
But unfortunately for Christie, whose surfing is best suited for heavier conditions and carvable faces, the bigger sets were few and far between. He found just one solid wave but fell on a maneuver, and was comboed with eight minutes left. The fan-factor may have played a part: For every roar of joy at Toledo's acrobatics, Christie faced a cheer of approval when he made mistakes.
And what's more, Toledo was just getting warmed up. His next big performance was on a waist-high wave. He charged down the line, marking it up with quick snaps and capping it all off with an air-reverse on to the sand. Sure, it earned just 6.67 in points, but it was worth its weight in gold for entertainment value.
"If I'd landed the air maybe it would have been a different story," Christie said afterwards. "And against the crowd, it was so nuts. I don't know what [Toledo] was doing, backflips? It was pretty tough."
The day's other huge heat was heavy for Brazilian fans, with Tour rookie Italo Ferreira (BRA) facing off against his best friend, Jadson Andre (BRA). It was an evenly matched, see-saw battle. But in the end Ferreira's fiery, progressive performance won him the heat, by just a fraction of the point.
"I'm super happy at this moment," he said afterward. "Thanks for the heat, Jaddy. I love you."
For his part, Andre was pleased for his protégé but disappointed to leave what he called the "party" of the Oi Rio Pro. "I'm kind of sad, because I wanted to do better than fifth here. But Italo's like my little brother -- well, he's not little anymore, he just beat me! And Filipe is an amazing surfer, so it's going to be a nice heat to watch."
The final two heats were all-Aussie matchups, featuring surfers who aren't often in the Quarters. Bede Durbidge (AUS), who has had two twentyfifth-place finishes so far this year, defeated Josh Kerr (AUS) to make it to the Semis. The last heat of the day saw Matt Wilkinson (AUS) vs. Owen Wright (AUS), Aussies who are similarly talented, but have had mixed results. Despite a close match it was Wilko who emerged triumphant, making his first Semifinal of the year.
Of his upcoming Semi faceoff, he told Pete Mel: "Bede and I have had pretty similar game plans out there. Just pick waves with big sections and hit the sections as hard as you can. So tomorrow's going to be interesting. The other side of the draw's a completely different story. They've just been jumping and twirling and doing all sorts of fancy stuff."
But in Rio, half the fun is are the zealous fÃ£s (those are the fans). Said Durbidge: "The environment is nuts, said Durbidge. "It should be even bigger tomorrow."
Tune in Sunday at 7:00 a.m. local time for the next call, and potentially the final day of the Oi Rio Pro. Watch on the go with the [WSL App]( http://www.worldsurfleague.com/app).