After a morning hold for four hours, the second round of the Oi Rio Women's Pro ran Sunday afternoon, under cloudy skies and a light rain. The waves finally began to roll in, but the lineup had yet to organize itself, making for some tricky decision-making, along with the stress that came with the threat of elimination.
Among the standouts of the day was French surfer Johanne Defay. Friday, when the contest kicked off, was the first time this season that she didn't win her Round 1 heat. But, when the moment arrived Sunday, she rose to the occasion, finding one of the best waves of the day, for a solid 7.00 (a high-water mark amid a new judging scale and tough conditions). Defay took down the local wildcard, Saquarema surfer Taís Almeida, who surfed a good heat, but didn't have the same speed and finesse as her elder, more experienced opponent.
One thing that might have bolstered Defay's performance Sunday was the watchful eye of her closest companion on Tour: Her mother. After Defay finished her heat, in honor of Mother's Day, the two willingly submitted to some questioning about their dynamic together on Tour. For Defay, to have someone who has unconditional love for her in a heated competitive environment has been a boon to her composure and contentment on Tour. For her mom, Josée Géraud, the job of occasional Tour mom can be stressful, but the time spent with her daughter is worth it (especially on days like Sunday, when Defay escaped a potential early-round loss).
Elsewhere in Sunday's Round 2 heats -- and without her mamãe in attendance -- Californian Sage Erickson had a return to the kind of form that had earned her one of her best year-end rankings ever in 2017, which she finished as World No. 8. In the opening heat of the round here in Saquarema, she defeated Oahu's Coco Ho by just .60 of a point. For Ho, it had to have been a frustrating loss after a few flashes of brilliance last year (her third-place finish at the Vans US Open of Surfing was the most notable). But for Erickson, the baby step toward success in Rio reflected her desire to rise the ranks again.
So far this season, Erickson has lost twice in Round 2 already, putting her deep in the women's Jeep Leaderboard at No. 14. Sunday, though, a spark of competitive fire flew in Saquarema.
"To make it into Round 3 has been a challenge for me this year," she said after her heat. "I have had a string of bad results and so really here I was feeling a momentum shift for myself. Last year I had such a great year, and this year I am trying to re-find that confidence in competing, and I am hoping that Brazil is going to give that to me."
Of the six heats that ran Sunday, the women saved the biggest nail-biter for last, in a battle that pitted Australian Keely Andrew against Kauaian Malia Manuel. Manuel led for nearly all of their 35-minute battle in what looked like a total rout. But somehow, incredibly, in the final minutes Andrew found her best wave of the heat -- a 4.77 -- to turn the tide and win. She eliminated Manuel by just 0.17, but that was more than enough. In March, Andrew had a breakout result at Snapper, the first event of the 2018 CT season, with a runner-up finish there. But she lost in the second round for the next two events, which had to hurt after such a glowing triumph.
Rio, however, might be just the recalibration that she needs. Like Erickson in the heats before her, Saquarema could offer some sweet redemption before the season goes any further. The next call is Monday at 6:45 a.m. BRT.