John on a scorcher. Image: WSL / Poullenot

Sean Doherty Reports From The WSL Rio Pro: “Apples And Oranges”

Brazil has never looked so good.

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And I’m not just saying that facetiously, in light of my wavepool tirade after the Founders’ Cup.

No, the waves have actually looked pretty good – not perfect, mind you – but rippable and tubing and with a tremendous backwash running through it totally unpredictable as well. Just like surfing should be.

Coming into it, this Brazilian event was on a hiding. Just a week after the historic wavepool event there was a danger this event would look like a VHS copy of Sarge’s Scrapbook IV from 1995. Brazil has traditionally been the worst event on tour by a long way. But no, over the past few days nothing could be further from the truth. Yesterday’s Lemoore is today’s Barrinha, and there’s never been a stronger case for not only this event, but for a whole tour held exclusively in backwash waves.

In keeping with my recent habit of covering events without actually watching them, and despite an Australian autumn finally stirring to life and your correspondent spending most of the week in the briny, getting some vision and being the best version of himself he can be, I’ve managed to cobble together some notes on the early rounds of the Backquarema So Stokey Pro.

Griffin Colapinto. Image: WSL / Poullenot

Is it just me or does the commentary seem subdued? Sure, half the commentary team are out injured – Ronnie with a long-term foot injury and Joe with a mystery knee problem that only flares up in Brazil – but listening to Pottz and Cote it sounds like they’re commentating inside an elevator. There’s been none of the girly-man histrionics of the Founders’ Cup, and as a result it’s actually been quite good. Joe needs to be careful. Cote wants his job. Cote has moved all Joe’s gear out of his locker, changed the nameplate above it, and been undoubtedly white-anting Joe to the producers. Pottz meanwhile might be under threat from Gerry Lopez, who popped up on the broadcast today for reasons nobody is too sure about.

Where has this wave been? Sure, it’s a little wobbly but entirely shreddable, and to think it’s just been at the other end of the beach the whole time! The beach must be quite long however, as none of the crowd from the other end seemed to have bothered driving down there. Hark back to the glory days of the Rio event and the millions of rabid surf fans lining the beach, then compare and contrast to today’s crowd which appeared to total 15, including a dog.

The really interesting number would however be online viewers, because clearly emboldened by the success of the Founders’ Cup the WSL today put up the first Facebook wall on the broadcast. When the Facebook deal was announced at the start of the year, the fine print added that it would be rolled out at a yet-to-be-determined event during this season. That was today. Three clicks of the “not now” button dispatched the sign up window, but it’s unlikely to disappear so easily from this point on.

Filipe Toledo. Image: WSL / Poullenot

In the absence of The Old Big Three – Kelly, Mick and Joel – it was expected the New Big Three – Gabby, Filipe and Italo – would dominate their home contest, but despite Gabby having some moments against Mike Wright that never really happened. Filipe never got going and Italo got taken out by Yago Dora. Before the event former ASP chief Brodie Carr messaged me asking for some Fantasy Surfer tips. I replied with an ancient Brazilian surf betting proverb. “In Brazil, bet if you will, you’ll never losey on De Souzey.” Adriano lost early at home for the first time since he was nine years of age.

Gabby fans. Image: WSL / Poullenot

If you ignore the scores which have been crushed here as they’ve been everywhere else this season, the quality of the surfing here has been great. The first ocean event after the first pool event would compare apples with oranges, and I’ll take today’s oranges. There was a big gulf between the best and the worst surfing, there’s was plenty of opportunity, and there was enough life in the lineup to allow them to go as big as they liked.

Cue John.

I was up in the early hours working on a print piece about John Florence, looking at what makes him tick. I was battling my own misconceptions all along that John is strictly good waves only, and that if John ever drifted in the ratings – as he’s doing right now – he might drift away from the tour entirely.

Thankfully his heat, the last of the day, played out while I was halfway through writing it cause I could have looked real silly. John scorched the place, throwing big, clean forehand spinners at will. There was a vital energy there in his surfing today that was missing in the pool… but I’ll leave you to make up your own minds on why that is. My inbox is a warzone already.

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Sean Doherty