Who Will Win the VIVO Rio Pro? (2024)

The penultimate leg of the WSL regular season is upon us, with the tour set to head to Brazil on a quick back-up from the El Salvador Pro. John John Florence was victorious on the men’s side, establishing a huge lead atop the standings as a result, though further down the leaderboard it is a hell of a lot closer, with just 4,000 points separating Jordy Smith in fifth from Ramzi Boukhaim way down in 16th.

The women’s side is a little more bunched up right at the top. Having won at Punta Roca, Caroline Marks finds herself in second just marginally behind Caitlin Simmers, but with just a little over 5,000 points back to the in-form Gabriela Bryan in sixth each of them could still theoretically fall out of the top five with a couple of poor results over the next two events.

Which of course, makes the VIVO Rio Pro mighty important. The waves at Saquarema, if we’re being honest, are not typically the best on tour, but the atmosphere is right up there. Swarms of rowdy Brazilians flock the beaches just east of Rio de Janeiro in support of the swathes of local surfers on tour, and with none of them in the top five on either side of the draw they will be desperate to see one of their own standing atop the podium at the end of the event. The locals have had no shortage of success on the men’s side here, but will that continue in 2024? Let’s take a look at how both the men’s and the women’s VIVO Rio Pro are shaping up. 

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Women’s VIVO Rio Pro

This will be the 22nd edition of the women’s VIVO Rio Pro, having first taken place way back in 1977 and then appearing on the tour in fits and starts ever since. There will be very few past champions appearing at this incarnation of the event, with most of the winners in recent years coming from the veteran brigade which has rapidly been swamped by the highly talented group of youngsters currently taking women’s surfing by storm. Perhaps the best of those, Caitlin Simmers, will be the only former winner in the draw after she took it out last year, and she will again head the list of chances to win this event.

The Favourites

At only 18 years of age and in just her second season, Caitlin Simmers finds herself in the yellow jersey with just two events to go in the 2024 season and in with a very good chance of winning her first ever world title. With such a tight leaderboard she needs to maintain her form over those next two contests to retain her spot not just in first place, but in the top five, but based on how she surfed here last year she should be able to do exactly that. She was pretty dominant in Rio a year ago, winning three of her four two-person heats by at least 4 points en route including a thumping 14.66-9.80 win in the final against three-time winner Tyler Wright. Simmers has been a little bit erratic in her results this year – to be expected for an 18-year-old – but she picked up a semi-final finish at El Salvador a little over a week ago, and is very capable of going one or two better than that and making it two wins in Brazil in as many years to solidify her position on top of the women’s leaderboard.

Sitting just below Simmers in the standings is Caroline Marks, who will be another of the main threats at this year’s contest. The reigning world champion comes into the tournament in the best form on tour, having won at El Salvador and finished third at the event prior in Tahiti. In four attempts in Rio she has never made it through to the final two, but she has been getting progressively closer year on year; her finishes at the event, chronologically, read 9th, 9th, 5th, 3rd. Having made it to the semi-finals in four of the last six events including the last two, she is coming into form at exactly the right time of the year and will be hard to knock out at Rio.

The Next Tier

Quietly putting herself in the best position of her career to challenge for a world title, Brisa Hennessy has been the most consistent surfer on the women’s tour this year. In five full years on the tour she has never finished higher than 5th and only once finished in the top ten, but that looks likely to change this year. In the six events that she has  competed in she has made the semi-finals five times, while in the sixth of those she made the quarters. Unfortunately, she has struggled to advance past that stage, with only one her five semis ending in victory – that came in Tahiti, when she subsequently lost the final to local Vahiné Fierro. The fact that she is continually knocked out at that stage perhaps points to her being a rung or two below the likes of Simmers, Marks and a couple of others, but that she so often puts herself right in the mix means that surely, at some point, she will break through for what would be just the second victory of her career. Perhaps this could be the event at which she does just it.

Next in the world rankings is Molly Picklum, who like Hennessy has been very consistent of late – albeit not in the way that she would want. She has been knocked out in the quarterfinals in three consecutive events now, and actually harking back further than that she has now not made it past that stage in five contests in a row after starting the year with a 1st and 2nd place finish at the two events in Hawaii. But all is not lost for the 21-year-old. She has not been surfing nearly as badly as those results would suggest, and all it will take is a little turnaround in fortune for her to put herself right back in the mix to win another contest. Of those three consecutive quarterfinal exits, Tahiti was the only leg at which she genuinely struggled, and clearly that is not a wave which possesses many similarities to what she will be surfing this week. At both Margaret River and Punta Roca, she put together pretty hefty scores in her early rounds only to be eliminated in high scoring heats. Picklum is precariously placed in 4th spot at the minute, and may very well need to break her run of 5th place finishes if she is to stay inside the top five. With a bit of luck, she will do that at this contest, and could very easily go all the way.

Without wanting to just list the chances at the VIVO Rio Pro exactly in their order in the world rankings, I’m going to do exactly that – I guess those rankings must be a pretty good indicator of who the best surfers in the world are at this point in the season. Johanne Defay is currently sitting in a tie for fourth in the world with Picklum, having picked up exactly the same results as her Australian counterpart over the course of the season, albeit in a different order – a couple of 9th place finishes, three 5th place finishes, a runner-up and one contest win. Like Picklum, Defay’s two finals appearances came in succession, hers at Supertubos and Bells Beach, while over the last three events she has not made it past the quarterfinals. And the similarities with Picklum’s season don’t end there. During that three-contest stretch of bad results she has been pretty unfortunate; in El Salvador she lost her quarterfinal by 0.09 points to Marks, in Tahiti she lost her Elimination Round to Tyler Wright 14.60-13.76, while at Margaret River she put up a 13.73 in the Elimination Round and then a 12.00 in the quarters, just losing the latter of those. The Frenchwoman is surfing better than her recent results would suggest, and needing a solid result to stay in the top five it would be no surprise to see her going deep in Rio.

The Roughie

There are a handful of surfers currently outside the top five who are within striking distance, but leading that charge is Gabriela Bryan, and given her recent form, the competitors above her will be looking nervously over their shoulders at the Hawaiian. In her first two full seasons on tour Bryan finished 9th, but at the age of 22 she is hitting the best form of her career. Following a reasonably slow start to the season which saw her fail to advance past the quarterfinals in each of the first four events, she won the first event of her career at Margaret River, before backing that up with a runner-up finish at El Salvador. That makes it two finals in the last three events, and though an early exit was sandwiched in between those, that form has seen her fly up the leaderboard and put herself in with a genuine chance of making the WSL Finals. Bryan has surfed well here in the past, making it through to the semi-finals in her first full season on tour back in 2022, and as a more accomplished competitor and in some dangerous form, she could go even better than that this time around.

Our Prediction

This is not an easy one to pick, with little separating the top handful of surfers on the women’s side of the draw. Simmers has plenty of reason to feel confident as the only competitor in the contest to have won here, but it’s the woman nipping at her heels in the world rankings who is in the superior form. Marks is making semi-finals for fun at the moment, is coming off her first win of the season at the last contest, and finished 3rd here last year. She is gearing up nicely for a challenge at what would be a second consecutive world title, and looks like a good chance to jump into first place in the world rankings with just one event to go before the WSL Finals with a win in Rio.

Men’s VIVO Rio Pro

The men’s VIVO Rio Pro has seen a pretty consistent trend emerge over the past few years, with the onslaught of talented male Brazilian surfers unsurprisingly resulting in plenty of local success at this contest. In fact, since 2017 it has been won exclusively by Brazilians, while harking back further John John Florence is the only non-local to win it since 2014. Four of those victories have been to Filipe Toledo, who will obviously not be competing this year, and with neither Gabriel Medina nor Italo Ferreira at their best and no Brazilian inside the top five, that streak will very possibly end this year. These are the best chances of winning the 2024 edition of the Men’s VIVO Rio Pro.

The Favourites

It’s impossible to go past John John Florence to win any tournament at the moment. He has long been probably the best surfer in the world when fit and firing – Medina his main challenger for that title – and having enjoyed an uncharacteristically long run at things without an injury, he is well and truly showing that this year. Three consecutive finals appearances, including his first win for the year at El Salvador, have seen him establish a massive lead in first place in the world rankings, with a more than 10,000-point gap between he and Jack Robinson in second. Barring a catastrophe he will finish first and give himself an excellent chance at securing a third world title, and while he doesn’t need a win in Rio to maintain his lead on top, the fact that he has made three finals in a row and has won here in the past would suggest that he will be pretty difficult to beat.

If Florence is the clear best surfer in the world, Jack Robinson would have a pretty good claim to being second – at least when he is at his best. This year that best has been a little bit elusive though, and three times in seven events he has been knocked out in the Elimination Round while in another he lost in the Round of 16. But on the other side of the coin, he is the only male surfer to have won two contests this year, having saluted at both Sunset Beach and his home break in Margaret River. Those erratic results have still been enough to have him sitting in second in the world rankings, though he is not nearly as assured of his spot as Florence is in first. Robinson is at his best in a couple of different types of waves; heaving barrels like Pipeline and Teahupo’o, and big heavy beach breaks like Sunset and Margaret, which he grew up surfing. The unpredictability and fickleness of Saquarema should really suit Robinson, and while a 17th and 9th place finish here in the last two years do not suggest that, it would be no surprise to see him notch up his third win of the season at this contest.

The Next Tier

Ethan Ewing surfs pretty differently to his compatriot Robinson, preferring space and time to please the masses with his beautiful, carving style, but the 25-year-old still has plenty of power in his arsenal and is more than capable of making a statement on the punchier types of waves that Saquarema tends to deliver. The current fourth-ranked surfer in the world showed as much last year when he finished 2nd at this event, putting up some big scores along the way – including a 15.50 in the semi-final. He comes into this contest in need of a good result, having endured three consecutive 9th place finishes and only once making it past the quarterfinals this year. That doesn’t bode all that well for his chances here, but his consistency has been close to unparalleled and he has, as mentioned, surfed really well here in the past. With a number of guys nipping at his heels and looking to steal his spot in the WSL Finals away from him, Ewing is very capable of picking up his first win of season 2024 at this contest to lock away his spot in the top five.

One of those surfers nipping at his heels is Yago Dora, the least celebrated member of the trio of Brazilians occupying 6th to 8th spot but potentially the one with the best chance of winning this event. Dora is 28 years of age and has never finished higher than 7th at the end of a CT season, but he has plenty going for him coming into Rio. After not doing much over the first five events of the season, he made it to his first quarterfinal of the year in Tahiti and then backed that up with a runner-up finish in El Salvador. Dora is also the reigning champion of this event, having won his first and to this date only ever Championship Tour contest on his home soil last year. No one got near him at that contest; he put up a 15.53 to win his Opening Round heat – Medina actually finishing just behind him in that heat – and didn’t look back thereafter, winning each of his next four heats by at least 4 points and averaging 13.53 per heat throughout the course of the contest. With that win a year ago and his best result of this season coming at the most recent event, he has both the current form and the form at this break to make a serious play at winning this contest, and probably jumping inside the top five as a result. 

Dora’s compatriot Gabriel Medina, as mentioned above, is capable of putting up big scores here and is one of the far more celebrated Brazilians, though the three-time world champion has an unremarkable record at his home break to say the least. In ten appearances here he has picked up two 3rd place finishes and two 5th place finishes, and the rest have been early exits. He has also not been surfing at nearly the level he was when he was winning world titles so far this year, but despite all that negativity it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that he goes deep here. He is just beginning to come into some ominous form with the finals on the horizon, having picked up consecutive 3rd place finishes at the last two events to catapult himself into 6th in the world rankings, just a few hundred points behind Jordy Smith in 5th. And despite those poor results here in the past, it isn’t as though he isn’t capable of surfing the break well – last year he scored 15.17 in the Opening Round but still had to go through the Elimination Round due to Dora’s high score, where he lost 12.00-11.00 to Samuel Pupo. As proud and competitive as any on tour and with a spot in the WSL Finals on the line, Medina will be desperate for a big result at this contest.

The Roughie

Like Medina, Italo Ferreira hasn’t enjoyed the success on his home leg of the tour that one might expect of a Brazilian world champion, having not made it to the final in six appearances. But he has notched up a couple of 3rd place finishes, and while he is no longer the surfer that he was when he won his world title back in 2019, as he showed in Tahiti a couple of events ago he is still very dangerous on his day. The explosive goofy footer has had a lot of early exits this year, three times failing to advance past the Elimination Round out of seven events, but the win at Tahiti showed what he is capable of at his best. What’s more, Ferreira has surfed really well here for the most part over the past two years and, as has been the case this year and throughout much of his career, it’s more been the gap between his best and his worst that has cost him. He came out of the blocks with a 15.00 in his Opening Round heat last year before managing just 7.26 in the Round of 16, while the year prior to that he put up solid scores in each heat en route to a semi-final before bowing out with a 10.83. His best is good enough to win this contest; it’s just a matter of finding it in every heat in which he competes.

Our Prediction

It might be boring, but Florence is so far ahead of the pack at the moment that it’s impossible to go past him at this event. Three consecutive finals on the Championship Tour is no mean feat, and having finally broken through for a contest win in El Salvador his tail will be well and truly up in Brazil. And while he hasn’t actually surfed at this contest since 2019 and hasn’t won it since 2016, the fact that he has saluted twice in his career suggests that he is fairly comfortable at the break. Florence doesn’t need a win to maintain his spot at the top of the world rankings, but the way that he is surfing of late there is a good chance that he will get one anyway.

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