- WSL / Luiz Blanco

It has been 11 years since the last Qualifying Series (QS) event took place in the city of Rio de Janeiro, and conditions did not disappoint on the first day of the World Surf League (WSL) Men's and Women's QS 1000 LayBack Pro. High-performance waves in the 4-5 foot range provided an excellent array of scoring opportunities at the pristine location of Prainha, which is heralded for its long-term environmental preservation of the beach, the surrounding coastline and vegetation.

On Wednesday, the competition began with the Round of 96 at the Men's QS 1000, which was highlighted in Heat 3, as José Francisco (BRA) earned the highest heat total of the day by boosting a lofty frontside air on a lefthander for an 8.23 and added a 7.83 on consecutive backside blasts on a right for a 16.06 total.

"This is my first time competing here at Prainha and the waves are really good here," declared Francisco. "It's always good to get off to a good start and get in sync with the ocean and get a correct mindset for the rest of the competition. For me, this is another opportunity to get a jump in the rankings and qualify for the Challenger Series. I'm just outside the bubble, so I want to do well here and solidify my spot in the rankings."

Jose Francisco José Francisco (BRA) executing a frontside air at the LayBack Pro at Prainha in Rio de Janeiro. - WSL / Luiz Blanco

WSL South America will qualify 10 men and 4 women from the regional rankings onto the 2023 Challenger Series, the new pathway to the WSL Championship Tour; the elite level of competitive surfing that crowns the World Champions each year.

No one was able to surpass Francisco's heat total, but two athletes were able to overtake him in single wave scores. Matheus Navarro (BRA) and Israel Junior (BRA) both earned 8.50 scores on their best rides. Navarro is currently one of the regional athletes that is competing on the 2022 Challenger Series and has already taken part in the first two events in Australia.

Navarro and Santiago Muniz (ARG), who is also on this year's Challenger Series, did not register in time for the event and did not receive seeding benefits. Regardless of this fact, Muniz began the day with a heat win, which has strengthened his position in the top-10 of the regional rankings.

"I've never competed here before, but I just feel blessed for having this opportunity, I'm super stoked," said Muniz. "I've competed a bunch of times in Rio, but never at this beach. I think because of the position of the beach, the swell funnels in and the waves have some power to them. The sets don't stop, and all the athletes are happy to be surfing quality waves in another great competition."

Santiago Muniz Santiago Muniz (ARG) on a lofty frontside air at the LayBack Pro at Prainha in Rio de Janeiro. - WSL / Luiz Blanco

The Women's QS 1000 is scheduled to begin tomorrow at 8:00 a.m. (GMT-3). The two-time WSL South America Regional Champion Daniella Rosas (PER) is slotted in the first heat of the day and will face Valeria Ojeda (VEN) and Julia Duarte (BRA). Other top seeded athletes that are set to compete at the LayBack Pro are Silvana Lima (BRA), Tainá Hinckel (BRA), Laura Haupp (BRA), Summer Macedo (BRA) and the 2022 WSL South America Regional Champion, Sophia Medina (BRA).

In addition to all the action in the water, the LayBack Pro has a wide-array of activities scheduled for the event window including jiu-jitsu sessions, a women's defense program, skateboard demos, a local beach market and a variety of educational and environmental preservation activations throughout the week at Prainha.

The LayBack Pro Rio is produced by Agência Esporte & Arte (AEA) and is sanctioned by WSL Latin America to run this stage of the WSL Qualifying Series. The event is approved by the FESERJ (Rio de Janeiro State Surfing Federation), and is presented by Bar 399 and sponsored by the City of Rio de Janeiro, Corona and Metha Energia; with additional support from ASAP (Association of Surfers and Friends of Prainha), BOLD Snacks, Orla Rio, Monster Energy, RIOZEN Toyota and Waves.com.br. The event is broadcast by FIRMA and can be seen on all WorldSurfLeague.com platforms.

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