Sean Doherty: Season Flip

23 Jun 2019 0 Share

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer


2019 Oi Rio Pro Day 3/ Round of 16

Being Saturday night here in Australia, I missed the early opening heats from Saquarema. Instead I walked down the road and caught Jack McCoy’s night, his “Talk Story”, a visual memoir narrated in a rich baritone Hawaiian Strine by the man himself. Who knew Jack shot the Pepsi commercial? You know the one with soccer stars Ronaldinho, Roberto Carlos and Beckham out there shredding courtesy of some comical, early CGI. At the time Ronaldinho and Roberto Carlos were the best surfers in Brazil with a series of bicycle kicks, headers, and deep tube rides. Times have changed. Not only has Brazil taken over the world of surfing, but today you could stunt double Italo, Gabby and Toledo without the use of CGI and get something more outlandish than the graphics guys back in the year 2000 could ever dream up.

Man, they’re in a real hustle to get out of here. Overlapping heats all day, said Renato Hickel, finishing tomorrow. “How many people we expecting tomorrow?” Asked Stridinho. “Twenty thousand,” replied in his Auzilian accent. Stridinho came straight back excitedly, “Are we going to have a beach party?” You bet.

The women’s round of 16 started up the beach at Itauna with the ocean having come off the boil from yesterday and settled into some rip bowl lefts. It was hard to sparkle. Lakey Peterson got through with a pair of sixes, while Sally Fitzgibbons made more sense of the jumbled lineup than anyone in the round. It’s no surprise she has the best record of any female surfer in Brazil. It helped that her opponent, Johanne Defay, is coming off a bout of dengue fever and chose two days in an airplane and two days in some Saquarema lagoon water to aid her recovery.

Silvana Lima scored the wave of the round, a 7.67 for two backhand whacks. Five of those points were awarded for handling the backwash. It was fellow Brazilian/Hawaiian Tatiana Weston-Webb who looked best, but her fate tomorrow in the quarters might be decided by whether they surf the left at Itauna or the right up the beach at Barrinha. Steph looked lost on the left… that might be another matter on the right.

That’s exactly where they moved the men soon after, and Phil Toledo took up where he finished there in the final last year. With a nice cheese wind Phil was always going to the sky and his first nine took just three minutes, a zero gravity full rotor. This joint is jam for him. For Kelly there was only one option and that’s where he went soon after, getting himself piped on a back-bank drainer for a 9.50. Barrinha is nines and threes however and it got scrappy from there. It came down to a set five minutes from time. With priority, Kelly air-dropped into a set but missed the tube. Phil took the next one which barrelled down the line for a nine and that was it. Kelly was upbeat afterwards, but also knew Toledo was gettable. So it goes. 

The first five events of Kelly’s year were always going to be Kelly against himself. Wins and the ratings were secondary to surfing flow and state of mind… and if Kelly can enjoy Brazil the way he seems to have enjoyed it, then he’ll take where he’s at right now. He’s set his season up nicely. It will switch come J-Bay next month when his pet events kick in. 

Did I hear Kaipo mention they actually dumped those boulders there on the point to make this wave? Are the Brazilians geo-forming their way onto the Dream Tour? 

The rest of the round never quite hit the heights of Phil and Kelly, although John’s flip – a flip by rights he probably should have landed – signalled this event is finally coming to life. Johnny got past Carmichael – Avoca Jesus – and has made finals day in third gear… but on one leg. Johnny hobbling up the beach didn’t look good. After almost sticking the first flip he went chasing another on a bigger wave. He’d tried to boost off an oncoming section, but with the backwash the oncoming section boosted off him, jamming his bad knee and coming straight in. Given his record with injuries and general chalkiness, it didn’t look good. His face said enough. Did the season just flip?

We’ll know more tomorrow… Avoca Jesus had eight minutes to find a six but couldn’t find it, handing Johnny a quarterfinal spot.

All the big dogs have made finals day in third gear – John, Toledo, Brother, Julian and Gabby – with the exception probably being Jordy who’s showed a little more intent across the first three days. If Johnny’s knee locks up overnight, however, and they have to start poking around in there, watch every one of these guys get a lot more interested. It’s a tight turnaround for J-Bay.

Tomorrow will be interesting. The Barrinha right needed to settle a bit, which it was doing by the final two heats of the day. The Brazilian Dream Tour might surprise us yet. 

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