In the best waves in Brasilian professional surfing history this week at the Oi Rio Pro and Oi Rio Women's Pro, Filipe Toledo electrified the massive hometown support and Stephanie Gilmore made huge strides towards a seventh World Title. Elsewhere there were more stumbles from the defending champs and breakout performances from the rookies. Here we take a look at the key findings from what was a monumental week in Saquarema.
Brasil Shows Its Class
During Brasil's 40+-year history with pro surfing, the country has provided many moments of World Title drama, progressive surfing milestones, and a well-deserved reputation as the country with the most passionate surf fans. Yet, few of its recent Championship Tour events have had notable wave quality. That is, until now. This week the Oi Rio Pro showed just how good the waves can get in Brasil. The move to Barrinha proved a masterstroke, with its power and green-watered barrels a revelation. "It's epic, it's the sickest wave," Wade Carmichael frothed after surfing his first heat. "It is wedgey, has heaps of power, a tube and a bowl. I didn't even know it existed." By the time he had surfed his last heat, the Final, the whole world realized the CT had a new world-class wave on its roster.
The Top of The Brasilian Pyramid
"This is our energy, this our feeling," Toledo said of the crowd just after his Final victory, before breaking down in tears. "It's emotional, it's crazy, what can I say? This is the way we are." The men's Rio Pro featured a record 14 Brasilian surfers in the starting field of 36. The numerical advantage continued throughout the event, where half of the Quarterfinalists, wore the auriverde (the yellow and green flag, for Brasil) on their jersey shoulders. By the Semifinals, though, just one Brasilian was left in the draw. Luckily for the impassioned crowd, that one was Toledo. After squeaking past Keanu Asing in Round 3, he was the dominant performer. His backside air in Round 4 was the only 10 of the event, while his mix of tuberiding skills and progressive aerial maneuvers meant no competitor came close to matching his 16-plus-point heat totals. It provided Toledo with a big jump up the rankings, to World No. 2, and gave the Brasilian fans the winner they craved.
The Lone Wolf
The modern professional surfer tends to have a fairly large support team. Parents, coaches, team managers, shapers and filmers often provide an integral mobile framework that allows each athlete to perform at their peak. In Brasil, though, Wade Carmichael chose a more solitary approach. The Australian traveled, roomed and freesurfed in Saquarema on his own, backing his own judgment, heat strategy and knowledge of his equipment. It showed a man who is supremely confident in his own skin and whose calm authority is all the more remarkable considering his rookie status. It also pushed him up to World No. 5. The lone wolf is now hunting in the top pack.
Steph Gilmore Wants No. 7
Stephanie Gilmore's World Titles came in a great glug of success, when she won her six Championships in the space of eight years, between 2007 and 2014. Yet as the Title wins stopped and the drought extended to four years, many questioned whether she had the drive for and interest in sustain another challenge. Her win in Brasil answered both questions, emphatically. "I just want it, I want it really bad. That's what changed," she said after her win. "Being on the biggest stage and competing, this never gets never old. I want to improve. I want do airs like Filipe. I want to get better." With that attitude and a lead over American Lakey Peterson of almost 4000 points, a record-matching seventh World Title seems more than within reach.
At the start of the year, both the men's and women's reigning World Champions -- John John Florence and Tyler Wright -- looked like odds-on favorites to record historic World Title three-peats. However, with three (and a half) events completed, those dreams look to be in tatters. Florence's ninth place in Brasil was his best result of the year -- he is enduring his worst season start since joining the Tour in 2012. His coach, Ross Williams, published an impassioned and totally justified defense of his charge's attitude and performance on Instagram. However, the 12,000 point head-start he has given to the current Jeep leader, Julian Wilson, now looks insurmountable. Wright, too, is in a similar position. Having failed to progress past the Quarterfinals so far this season, she nows trails Gilmore, the World No. 1, by a whopping 14,000 rankings points. It is inevitable that both Champs will fight back, but it will take something truly remarkable to overcome their poor starts.
The Rookies' Staying Power
Wade Carmichael's incredible run to the Final was yet more evidence that the rookie class of 2018 contains some serious staying power. Of the eight Quarterfinalists in the Oi Rio Pro, three were rookies. Michael Rodrigues backed up his 5th place on the Gold Coast to move up to World No. 7, while his compatriot, Yago Dora, had his first breakthrough of the year. Griffin Colapinto and Tomas Hermes had already made their marks with Semifinal finishes at the Quik Pro back in March. And while Willian Cardoso hasn't had a huge result yet, he has made it past Round 2 in each of the events. Among the women, Caroline Marks, the sole rookie, is World No. 5 after an incredible opening to her debut CT season. Rookies traditionally take their time to adjust to life on the big stage, but it seems this crew have come pre-prepped.