2011 Billabong Pro Rio Preview
There are no shortage of questions in competitive surfing this week. Is a Brazilian takeover of the sport inevitable? What is going on with all these urban venues on the "Dream Tour"? Are all surfers contractually obligated to grab a fitted cap and energy drink before they grab a towel? Dane Reynolds' knees aren't made of rubber?
For answers, tune in to Billabong Pro Rio, the waiting period which runs from Wednesday through May 22.
It's been a long time coming, but Brazil is currently in the eye of surfing's storm. Flavio Padaratz and Flavio Gouveia broke down the door to the World Tour in the '80s, and second generation competitors such as Neco Padaratz carried the torch for more than a decade after that. Today, Brazilians aren't just holding their own, they're challenging the best surfers in the world. Three of the top-10 surfers in world right now are Brazilian, and there are six in the top 30 of the ASP's One World ranking. At last week's Nike 6.0 Lowers Pro, they planted a green and yellow flag in the sand, accounting for six of eight semifinalists. Jadson Andre had the highest wave score. Miguel Pupo won the whole thing.
They're fit, they're smart and they are collectively motivated in way that the sport hasn't seen since the Aussies stormed Hawaii in the '70s.
Brazilians are rabid for sports. They're set to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. And unlike the States, where surfing is still a fringe "action sport," in Brazil professional surfers are held in the same regard as big-name soccer players, and Brazilian surfers in particular are supported with a passion that borders on obsession.
Rio is part of a well-documented trend of World Tour events gravitating toward urban centers with average waves rather than the remote reefs of the original Dream Tour. With 11.5 million people, Rio serves as a warm up of sorts for September's Quiksilver Pro New York and November's Rip Curl Search San Francisco. Whether the World Tour event format is flexible enough to get the best of mediocre beach break and how content fans will be to watch a less-than-critical wave lacking the skatepark appeal of Lowers, are just two questions that will likely be answered in the next two weeks.
Then there's Reynolds. Rio marks his return to the World Tour after missing the first two events this year following knee surgery to repair an injury suffered last December in Hawaii. His official comeback was the Lowers Pro last week, in which he chucked an inverted slob air before exiting with a horrendous 2.70 total, the kind of up-and-down performance that has characterized his career to date -- sick turn or crash and burn. However far he gets in Rio, he'll make each round a little more exciting.
The Women's World Tour will also stop in Brazil. Unlike the men, they've been here before, for the 2008 Women's Billabong Pro Rio. Don't be surprised to see Bede Durbidge going to Melanie Bartels for advice on the wave. With Carissa Moore and Sally Fitzgibbons battling it out atop the rankings and four-time world champ Steph Gilmore yet to win an event, the women's world title race is shaping up to be even better than the men's.
World No. 1 Kelly Slater won't be missing this event, as he did Lowers. Joel Parkinson and Mick Fanning are rolling after the Rip Curl Pro at Bells. And the Brazilians have the dial set to full froth. It's time some questions get answered.