With just three events to go in the season heading into the 2022 Oi Rio Pro, the lucky five who would compete in the WSL Finals remained far from decided. The third last contest of the season, there was plenty on the line in this one, and while we still don’t know who will compete at Trestles, lots of significant moves were made in the world rankings. Let’s take a look at how it all played out.
The 12-woman field that took to the water in Rio was filled with familiar names, the lone exception being Peruvian Sol Aguirre; she was filling in for the desperately unlucky Tyler Wright, whose finals hopes were further diminished as she missed a third straight event, this time as a result of visa complications.
Despite all the talent in the field, however, the event got off to a slow start. An underwhelming Opening Round saw just three surfers finish their heat with scores in the double figures, with Gabriela Bryan’s 11.07 the best of the lot. Tatiana Weston-Webb’s 10.77 saw her just nudge out Aguirre, while Carissa Moore put in one of her worst heats in years, scoring just 1.80. Caroline Marks won a surprisingly low-scoring third heat against Courtney Conlogue and Johanne Defay, while three-time Oi Rio Pro winner Sally Fitzgibbons won another low-scoring heat against compatriots Isabella Nicholls and Steph Gilmore.
That meant four of the top five found themselves fighting to stay in the event almost as soon as it began, and all but one of them was pushed to the brink in the Elimination Round. Moore was first up and just barely nudged out an unlucky Aguerre, who lost a second consecutive heat by less than a point. Next up was a pivotal heat between the third-placed Gilmore, coming off a win in El Salvador, and seventh-placed Nicholls, and this time it was the underdog prevailing, Nicholls winning 11.16-10.70. The in-form Defay then took on Conlogue, and though she could just manage 8.90, was able to advance through to the quarters, before Lakey Peterson had a more cruisy victory against Brisa Hennessy.
Despite having had a tumultuous season to date, Fitzgibbons is still theoretically a chance of making the WSL Finals, and this seemed as good a time as ever to make a charge given her past success at this event. That prospect, however, was swiftly put to bed in the quarters when Defay knocked her off 9.43-8.10. The low scores continued in the second heat with Bryan beating Peterson 8.94-8.33, before Moore put together the highest heat total of the round to defeat Marks and Weston-Webb defeated a disappointing Nicholls.
Which left us with an intriguing pair of semi-final matchups; the top two ranked surfers in the world, both looking to cement their spot in the finals, up against two women on the outside of the top five looking in, but each still holding on to a realistic hope of competing at Trestles. A finals appearance and in particular a win would have been a game-changer for both Bryan and Weston-Webb, but unfortunately for them the status quo prevailed. Defay was too strong for Bryan in the first semi, before Moore again put together the highest score of the round in the second to lock in her fourth finals appearance of the year.
Despite all those finals appearances, Moore hadn’t yet won a contest this year, and with Defay arguably the in-form surfer in the world at the moment she was never going to have it all her own way. In solid overhead conditions, Defay developed a strong early lead courtesy of a 7.50 on her second wave of consequence of the heat, and when the clock ticked under a minute Moore still needed a 6.51 for victory and seemed likely to record a fourth runner-up result of the year. The four-time world champ, however, is the best in the business for a reason. With 58 seconds on the clock, she paddled into a solid left-hander and promptly destroyed it with two huge backhand hacks, registering a 9.50 for her troubles. At long last, she recorded her first victory of the season, and what a way to do it.
With Moore and Defay already locked in a tight battle for first place heading into this event, the winner of that final was going to be sitting atop the rankings eight events into the season. And so Moore it is who will continue wearing the yellow jersey, having developed a 4,000-point lead over Defay – who in turn has more than 6,000 points on third place. Barring a disaster, both of them have all but locked in their spots at Trestles, but the next three places are a lot less certain.
With Gilmore and Hennessy both knocked out of this contest early, Peterson jumped ahead of both of them despite only recording a quarterfinal appearance, and those three are now separated by less than 1,000 points in spots 3-5 in the world rankings. With the exception of Marks, however, who is too far back to mount a challenge, the other six surfers left on the rankings table are at least an outside chance to make it to Trestles.
Weston-Webb and Bryan were the biggest movers courtesy of their semi-final appearances, the former moving up three spots to sixth and the latter two spots to eighth. Isabella Nicholls remains in the hunt as does Courtney Conlogue, while back in tenth sits Tyler Wright. Four consecutive throwaway scores have seen her tumble from a world title favourite to needing a huge couple of contests just to make Trestles, but the two-time world champ has been arguably the best in the business when fit this year, so write her off at your own peril.
What’s Up Next?
Next up we head to South Africa for the Corona Open J-Bay, held at one of the absolute best waves in the world when firing. This contest only returned to the women’s tour in 2018 after an extended hiatus and courtesy of Covid has been held just twice since, with first Gilmore and then Moore saluting on those occasions. They will again be among the favourites this time around, but there are plenty of others needing to and capable of securing the 10,000 points on offer, and it all kicks off on the 12th of July.