It didn't take long for the Jeep Leaderboard to get blown up at the Oi Rio Pro. Three of the top five surfers were eliminated on the opening day of competition, and as Tuesday unfolds, even more in the top 10 have suffered painful defeats in Round 3. But there was an extra layer of cruelty to some of the early, gut-punching losses, as the margins were razor thin.
Take Owen Wright, for example. Australia's miracle man came into this event with a dangerous track record, having appeared in back-to-back Quarterfinals during his last two Brasil trips. Owen's backhand seemed to be the perfect fit for the punch righthanders pouring through at Barrinha, where he faced Wade Carmichael and Wiggolly Dantas.
The surf was playful and easier to handle early on, and Wright unleashed a vicious volley of moves on his backhand, wrestling a 6.93 from the demanding judges. It was the best wave of the heat, but unfortunately for Wright it wasn't enough. He finished with 11.26 points, right between Carmichael's 12.6 and Dantas' 11.17, meaning a point and a half separated first from worst.
It was one of those tough losses to swallow for Owen, who moved into a sudden-death match in Round 2 against the resurgent Alejo Muniz. By the way, Muniz, finished third in his opening round heat, though he only fell one point shy of heat winner Gabriel Medina. By afternoon the conditions were getting a tougher: more swell, more wind, and more bounce, yet both surfers performed. The slug-fest was hard fought, but Muniz earned a TKO on Wright, edging him ever so slightly by less than two-tenths of a point. 10.57 to 10.4.
Yet that was nothing compared to the fate Monday of defending champion Adriano de Souza. The 2015 World Champion finished in third during his opening round heat, just six-tenths behind heat winner Griffin Colapinto. Rookie Michael February was sandwiched in between the two in what was the tightest heat of the day.
De Souza, mind you, entered this event ranked No. 10 on the Jeep Leaderboard. He met up with a very fiery Ian Gouveia in his Round Two death match, and the two Brazilians staged what became one of the toughest bouts of the day. They both surfed well, and both stuck impossible free-fall landings after tagging meaty closeout sections. The crowd loved it, and so too did the judges, rewarding them both 8s. But Adriano wasn't able to find a backup wave, and just like that, the surfer with the most dominant record at this event is out.
Before the day was done there was another top five casualty. Michel Bourez, who entered the Oi Rio Pro tied with Owen Wright at No. 4 on the Jeep Leaderboard, just barely came up short to Yago Dora in Round One. And in Round 2, the power-hungry Tahitian seemed to have an advantage over the bantamweight Keanu Asing, just based on conditions alone. But conditions were deteriorating in the wind, and good waves got hard to find. Both surfers earned were holding a 6 and a 3 in the end, but the portions after the decimals gave Keanu a the narrowest of wins, 9.77 to 9.66.
And that, of course, was only the first half of Round 2. Tuesday, as the bouts continued, so did the painful losses. Asing eventually lost, to Filipe Toledo (who won in the 2015 Rio event), while Gouveia continued his rampage, eliminating Jordy Smith in Round 3. And that was just the beginning. Before the contest has barely begun, Rio is proving to have far more impact on rankings -- and, probably, nerves -- than anyone could have imagined.