The Brazilian Storm might not have been able to rain down a World Champion three-peat on the rest of the pro tour in 2016, but that didn't stop Caio Ibelli from racking up another accolade for the Samba Boys - Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour's Rookie of the Year.
The 23-year-old Brazilian, raised in the fickle beach breaks surrounding Sao Paulo, surfs with confidence in all conditions, mixing compact carves, vertical lip cracks and explosive air time.
Ibelli -- like a number of other Brazilians including Gabriel Medina, Adriano de Souza and Filipe Toledo -- has settled down in south Orange County, Calif. with his pro surfer girlfriend, Makaha-raised Alessa Quizon. The pair own the unique title of first male/female couple to both be competing at pro surfing's highest level concurrently.
He's no stranger to big victories, in fact, having already won both the 2011 World Junior Championship and the 2015 WSL Qualifying Series title. His ROTY win may seem like an inevitable sequence of events, but his inaugural lap chasing the Dream Tour held its fair share of challenges. "This year was really special, as my first year on tour I had so much to learn, so I really enjoyed the whole thing to the max," Caio told the WSL.
He did most of his damage with a great Australian leg, bagging a pair of 9ths at Snapper and Bells (losing to Jordy Smith with a heat score north of 16 points at Bells). That was followed by his best result of the year -- a 5th at Margaret River, where he fell to eventual contest winner Sebastien Zeitz in the Quarterfinals. "Going to Bells and Margaret and taking out John John Florence on his world title year, back-to-back in Round Three was sick, I love to surf against him now, but now he never leaves me alone in a heat," Ibelli said, "I loved surfing this year, the waves and places we go on tour a just amazing!"
At mid-season he was situated solidly inside the top 10 rankings, but couldn't continue his roll, dropping into the mid-teens by the end of the South Pacific leg. "The year is long and I'm glad I got the job of qualifying done a little earlier than some of the other rookies, but I wish I could have gotten myself into a Final like a few of the other guys did."
He regained some of his early season form during the Euro leg, locking down a 9th in France and a 13th in Portugal to jump back into the No. 15 spot on the rankings heading into Hawaii for the Triple Crown. After the Hawaiian Pro and the World Cup of Surfing, Caio still held onto a tenuous lead in the chase for Rookie of the Year due to some good results in Hawaii by fellow rookies Kanoa Igarashi and Conner Coffin. But it would take some unexpected help from a living legend to seal the deal.
He has Kelly Slater to thank for sealing his ROTY win, by virtue of Slater's razor thin victory at Pipe in Round Three over fellow Rookie of the Year candidate Conner Coffin. "The race for the ROTY became very tight at Pipe, the boys absolutely killed it, Conner and Kanoa were fun to watch!" Ibelli said.
With an outstanding rookie year now in his rear view mirror, Ibelli has these words of wisdom for the incoming 2017 rookie class: "Just go big, the world is watching, just have fun," suggested Ibelli, "You're only as big as your dreams, lets have fun doing what we do. P.S. When you see me in a heat, don't be too smart, let me catch some waves too!."