Though just three events remain before the WSL Finalists are decided, there is still plenty of water to go under the bridge on both the men’s and women’s side of the draw before we know who will be competing at Trestles. That makes each event pivotal, but there’s no time to take a breath; just a few days after Griffin Colapinto and Steph Gilmore triumphed at El Salvador, the tour heads to Brazil for the Oi Rio Pro. Let’s take a look at who’s likely to be there at the business end of the men’s contest.
It would be hard to argue that Filipe Toledo doesn’t deserve to be viewed as the man to beat in this event. He’s been the best surfer all year, boasting a comfortable lead atop the world rankings, and has won this event the last two times it has been held and three times in total. In those last two finals, he has scored in excess of 17 both times and more than doubled the score of his opponents, while when he won back in 2015 it was with a virtually unbeatable heat total of 19.87. He is the current best surfer in the world and the most successful surfer in history at this event, so it’s clearly his tail that everyone else is chasing.
There are a number of guys capable of knocking him off his proverbial throne, but his countryman Gabriel Medina looms as arguably the most likely. The reigning world champ, of course, missed the first half of the season, but has come back with consecutive semi-final appearances and only fell short of a finals appearance in El Salvador by 0.13 points. Somewhat surprisingly, he hasn’t had a huge deal of success at this event; in eight appearances he hasn’t once made the final and has only twice made the semis. That certainly doesn’t mean he’s not capable though, and the ominous form he has demonstrated since returning to the tour suggests he’s every chance of notching up his first win of the season in front of his home crowd.
Rounding out the list of favourites is, surprise surprise, the third member of Brazil’s star trio, Italo Ferreira. He remains yet to make a final this year after the event in El Salvador, but he did make his second semi of the season there and jumped into fourth place in the world rankings as a result. Like Medina, however, he has had a surprising lack of success at his home event. After finishing third here in 2015 his results have regressed each year since, finishing ninth, 13th and then 17th in his three subsequent appearances. But also like Medina, that’s not a reason to count him out. Alongside his Brazilian counterparts, Ferreira will most likely be in the mix when the whips are cracking.
The Next Tier
What will no doubt be a parochial Brazilian crowd will clearly be getting behind the above three names, but while they will each be tough to beat there are plenty capable of doing so, none less than Jack Robinson. His streak of wins which saw him take out the Margaret River Pro and then the Quiksilver Pro G-Land ended in El Salvador with a quarterfinals exit, but he maintained his spot in second place with a healthy lead over third and a very healthy lead over fourth. He hasn’t competed in a CT event here so far in his career, but he’s adapted to a wide variety of different waves so far this year without appearing to break a sweat, so it’s safe to assume that he’ll manage just fine.
While Robinson might be the best non-Brazilian hope in the field, Griffin Colapinto might not be too far behind after his victory at the Surf City El Salvador Pro. The young Californian became just the second man this year – after Robinson – to win multiple contests, adding to his win at the MEO Pro Portugal in the third event of the year. The result saw him catapult from seventh into third position in the world rankings, and another good showing here will make him very hard to dislodge from the top five heading towards the WSL Finals. Unfortunately he’s mixed in three 17th-place finishes alongside his two wins, but this erraticism is counterintuitively what makes him dangerous – he’s less of a certainty than the aforementioned names to advance through the early rounds, but if he gets into a groove he will be hard to stop.
The only member of the top five not yet mentioned is Kanoa Igarashi, and with John John Florence – currently sitting in sixth – set to miss his second event in a row, he has a great chance to solidify his spot in the top five. After starting the year like a house on fire he has cooled off over the last few weeks, and a quarterfinal exit in El Salvador was the equal best result he’s achieved since Hawaii. In fact, that now makes it seven events for just one semi-final appearance, so while he’s been fairly consistent in making it through the early rounds, he’s struggled when the going has gotten a little more tough. In four appearances at this event he’s finished 13th, ninth, ninth and fifth – hardly results to write home about – and based on his performances so far this year he might be in for another similar one. So consistently reaching that final eight, however, means that at some point, surely he will break through, and perhaps the Oi Rio Pro will be that point.
This one is a little bit out of the box, but Joao Chianca is a better chance of doing damage at this event than his results at the top level so far in his career would suggest. He competed in his first CT event at Pipe earlier this year and was eliminated by Florence in his first heat, but not without giving the best surfer in the world at that wave a serious fright with a 9.87 individual wave and 16.74 heat total. That charging performance showed what he’s capable of in waves of consequence, and he backed it up with an impressive Opening Round performance in Portugal in which he beat Robinson and Leonardo Fiorivanti, before again being beaten by Florence early at Bells Beach despite scoring 17.73 in that Round of 32 heat. If it weren’t for Florence and a couple of other close losses he could easily have accumulated a couple of solid results. His luck will turn at some point, and with the backing of the Brazilian crowd this could be a great opportunity for him to make a statement.
As great as Robinson has been this year and as impressive as Colapinto was in El Salvador, without Florence it’s very hard to go past one of the top Brazilians. And of those, Toledo is the hardest to go past. He ticks all the boxes, boasting both the current form and the past history at the break, and he can extend his lead at the top of the world rankings with a second win of the season.