After years of competing at the punchy shorebreak of Barra Da Tijuca, the Oi Rio Pro is relocating to the eastern suburbs of a little town called Saquarema. What they lose in gigantic crowds and big city atmosphere is gained in wave quality and consistency. It also brings a level of freshness to a schedule that hasn't seen a change in venue since the Oakley Pro Bali in 2013.
While many of the CT competitors are familiar with Saquarema's rippable lefts and rights stemming from multiple years as a premiere Qualifying Series (QS) event, a number of them have yet to venture north. There is one consensus about this change throughout the Top 32; they're happy about the move.
Of all the events on Tour, Brazil has a way of finding success for the unexpected. The short period swells and beach break conditions lend themselves to a high wave count, and plenty of opportunities for upsets. It's also a rare place where underdogs truly have a chance to win the event. Example being Jadson Andre taking down Kelly Slater during his dominant run in 2010. Or even a young John John Florence picking up his first career win in 2012 over eventual World Champ Joel Parkinson.
Speaking of John, he made sure that first win wasn't a fluke by backing it up with authority last year. He currently owns the highest Heat Win Percentage in Brazil at 71.4% and the 3rd highest AHS with 13.99 points. As far as this year goes, it doesn't look like he has any intention of slowing down. John actually increased his average heat score for the year at Bells bringing it to a daunting 16.9 total. Still nearly two full points higher than Jordy Smith in 2nd place.
Jordy is no stranger to winning in Brazil either. Who can forget his Cristo statue claims on the way to taking down Adriano De Souza in 2013? This will be his first trip ever to Saquarema, so there is a bit of unknown.
There are no bad picks in Tier A on WSL's Fantasy but you can bet that many fans will run with Filipe Toledo. The word "dominant" was commonplace during his 2015 performance. He has the edge on everyone when it comes to AHS here with 14.9 points as well as an air game in both directions that will make you dizzy.
My dark horse for potentially grabbing his first CT victory is Kolohe Andino. I watched him detonate at Lowers left last week that sold me on his legitimacy for an event win this year. Andino finished 3rd here in 2012 as a QS, and lost to Michel Bourez in his first ever CT final at Barra Da Tijuca in 2014.
Tier B, like always, is loaded with enough options to make your head spin.
Kind of like that cork spin Gabriel Medina stuck to the tune of a 10-point ride last year. The Australian leg has officially become a struggle for Gabe's annual World Title run, and surprisingly, Brazil hasn't fared much better for him. Medina averages the 14th best average finish for surfers currently on Tour here. His Heat Win Percentage is 9th overall at 56%, and he's never cracked a final in a home court CT. Hope hangs on the fact that he owns the 2nd highest Average Heat Score in Brazil at 14.79 and the 3rd most Excellent Heats with six.
Another head scratcher goes to Julian Wilson. He has the 26th best Heat Win Percentage. Only Matt Wilkinson, Wiggolly Dantas, and 2016 rookie Conner Coffin are lower in Brazil. While he does own three Excellent Heats, good for 9th overall, Julian's consistency needs to go way up if he expects to reverse this losing trend. I fully expect that to happen considering Saquarema is tailor made for his backhand attack.
On the other end of the spectrum, how about the case for Jack Freestone? Last year's runner up, and he did it with a knee injury that wasn't yet 100%. Jack also got into Rio as a wildcard in 2013, but lost in Round Two. Still, he's posted four Excellent Heats. The same as Mick Fanning, but in 11 less attempts.
With the unknown aspect of never running a CT at this location. Many of you might opt for people with prior success in QS events here. There's plenty to choose from in Tier B. Matt Wilkinson and Wiggolly Dantas have both taken wins in the 10k. Jermey Flores has a runner-up. Sebastian Zietz and Jadson Andre have both reached the Quarterfinals. Even Joan Duru and Conner O'Leary posted 9ths in 2015.
This may be the most important Tier C you pick all year. I expect at least one of these names to find their way into the Semifinals, if not the actual Final. Who will it be?
Bede Durbidge missed 2016 to injury but placed 2nd and 5th the years prior. If that's not enough for motivation, check his Round One heat draw against best friends on tour, Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson.
Josh Kerr is another strong option in Brazil with a Top 10 HWP. He's only placed 25th here once in the past six years.
If there's an opportunity for Ian Gouveia to light it up, right now would make a lot of sense. His frontside airs are on lockdown and Ian hasn't shown a tendency to give up in any heat this year.
You have to wonder when the youth movement will kick back in for Kanoa Igarashi, Leo Fioravanti and Ethan Ewing. They're all ticking time bombs waiting to explode.
Lastly, Jesse Mendes got the call up as a wildcard by leading the QS. In his home country and expecting to be be full-time on the CT in 2018, Jesse will have nothing to lose and should surf with a free mind.