The battlefield shifted Monday at the Oi Rio Pro, as officials elected to move the competition venue roughly a half-mile up the beach to Barrinha. The spot is a punchy righthander, and breaks off the jetty that serves as the opening to the estuary outlet for the region.
The famed break is a jewel of the region, beloved for its hollow right tubes. It's also improved in recent years, thanks to refinements to the jetty which were added to increase the flow of salt water into the estuary to protect native species. One of the welcome byproducts of that effort as been an improvement to the shape of the sandbar that builds up next the rocks, and when southwest swells are greeted with northwest winds, which was the case on Monday, the wave turns on.
The impact of this move was felt immediately, as competitors view it as an entirely new spot. Though Barrinha has been served as backup spot for the Oi Rio Pro before, this is the first time the event has run there. "It's fresh to our eyes," said Julian Wilson, who won his Round 1 heat by syncing his surfing with the more powerful rights that were on tap Monday. The hollow right off the rocks acts a lot like a pointbreak, which presented a significant mental shift for the competitors.
"The lineups more organized, and there's more room for innovation," said 1989 World Champ Martin Potter, who's commentating the action. "We're seeing a lot more aerials up here, as well as very solid tube opportunities."
During Monday's heats, with some hollow waves rolling in, the judges noted that driving tubes would be rewarded. John John Florence, the two-time, reigning World Champ, took them up on on that with a solid barrel during his Round 1 heat. After punctuating his exit with a huge closeout blast he earned a 9.10 for the effort, which was the highest score of the opening round. Unfortunately for Florence, however, it wasn't enough to take the win. He struggled to find a backup score, while wildcard Mikey Wright's power game was on point and he nabbed the win with the highest heat score of the morning.
Renowned power-mongers like Willian Cardoso and Wade Carmichael, meanwhile, were undoubtedly thrilled with the move, which allowed them to showcase their expanded range of rail carves, power hooks and blow tails. Having said that, Cardoso said he's just as eager to illustrate how good his backhand surfing is down at the left if things go back there.
Fortunately for Florence, he loosened up during his sudden-death heat in Round 2 while surfing against local wildcard Deivid Silva, and survived the battle. Given the spontaneity of John's surfing, Barrinha's punchy sections could play into his hands, should this venue hold up. He could use a solid result; he's hoping to climb out of the hole he's dug early this season. "It's really fun out there, it's just hard sometimes to find the right one," Florence said, after making through his heat.
While officials are hopeful they'll be able to run at Barrinha again on Tuesday, as the current swell moves to the east the wave at Barrinha will shut down, and the left at Itaúna -- the main site for the contest -- will come back to life. As of Monday afternoon, however, the forecast is for more solid swell and even more favorable winds to be on tap at Barrinha Tuesday morning. Stay tuned for more power-surfing from the backup site, for now.
The next call for the Oi Rio Pro is 6:45 a.m. BRT Tuesday at Barrinha.