Here in Saquarema, the air is soft and the colors are bright, from the green and yellow national flags that fly in fans' hands to the pink flowers that cascade down concrete walls, ready to burst. With the Oi Rio Pro in town, the narrow streets are overflowing with people, from families and event crews to cariocas bussed in for weekend festas.
But in the water Monday, as the men's heats kicked off at Barrinha, the mood for some was less like a party getting started than one ending all too soon. Among the major blows of the day was Adriano de Souza's loss in Round 2, to fellow Brazilian Ian Gouveia. Forget about the fact that Mineirinho, as he's known here, is the defending event champ, who was treated to a hero's celebration on the beach here last year. Or that Gouveia is relatively new to the elite Championship Tour (CT), and likely gleaned competitive insights from De Souza, the de facto leader of the Brasilian Storm.
Gouveia's win was actually his first of 2018, after three events so far. Not only did he make it through the Round 2 elimination, but he earned the highest heat total of the day, with 15.53 (out of a possible 20 points). For the young rookie, the triumph should be a well-deserved confidence boost after a rough start to his year. For the elder statesmen, who's currently sitting at World No. 10, it was his first Round 2 loss since 2016. It was also likely a bittersweet passing of the torch -- at least, for now. Gouveia has more battles to get through, and both surfers have more than half the year ahead of them.
The day's other big rumble was between two-time, reigning World Champ John John Florence and Mikey Wright, two surfers who are quickly becoming rivals of sorts. At Snapper Rocks, the first event of the 2018 season, Wright -- who was surfing as a wildcard there, too -- handed Florence a painful Round 2 defeat. Wright was again a wildcard at Margaret River, and this time Florence got some sweet revenge, sending his bemulleted nemesis to Round 2. Wright survived that test, however, and the two are set to battle next in Round 3 of that event when it continues.
Before that heat in Bali, however, the two had to face each other here, and this time it was Wright who had the upper hand. In their Round 1 matchup at Barrinha, the backup site for the event, Wright relegated Florence to the elimination round again, putting Florence on the defense from the start. In Round 2, though, Florence found his footing and took down local wildcard Deivid Silva in the process.
Despite his cool demeanor, the expectations that come with winning back-to-back World Titles may be weighing heavily on his tan shoulders. "Everyone keeps saying that I've had a super slow start, but I feel really good," Florence said after his Round 2 win. "I've only lost two events, and they canceled Margarets, so I am where I was at any other year."
Wright, for his part, simply seemed more fired-up than ever (if that's possible, based on his freesurf clips). Currently at No. 2 on the men's Qualifying Series, he clearly has his sights set on joining the CT full-time in 2019. "This makes me want to keep going and getting results on the QS, and getting these spots as a replacement," he said. "I am trying to make the most out of these opportunities. To have Tyler [Wright, my sister] and Owen [Wright, my brother] both here as support is definitely good."
Apart from those nail-biter battles, others on Monday had notable matchups, too. Gabriel Medina, who's currently World No. 7, pulled a wave out of his back pocket to nab a Round 1 heat win with just three minutes left on the clock. Current co-Jeep Leaders, Julian Wilson and Italo Ferreira, also cruised to Round 3, nicely keeping pace with each other.
And Filipe Toledo, another Brasilian standout who won the Oi Rio Pro in 2015, made it through his Round 1 battle as well. "For me, it's the most important round of the event," he said, during an extended appearance on the WSL broadcast. This time around, Toledo has even more to surf for: His wife, Ananda, had their second child just a few days ago.
The next call for the Oi Rio Pro and Oi Rio Women's Pro is Tuesday at 6:45 a.m. BRT at Praia da Barrinha. Up next for the women is Round 3, while Round 2, Heat 7 is next for the men.