The WSL Championship Tour shifts to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil this month with the tournament scheduled to start on May 11th to 20th. Saquarema is the location for this year's Oi Rio Pro after the event was moved to this location after Rio de Janeiro was given the axe. Saquarema is approximately 100 km from Rio and is home to some premier beach breaks along the coast, including Itauna beach where the event is held.
Coming into this event there are a number of injury concerns with Kelly Slater and Caio Ibelli officially ruled out of this event with ongoing injuries. This makes way for Brazilians and ex CT competitors Wiggolly Dantas and Miguel Pupo to have a crack at this year's event. Joel Parkinson has also withdrawn from the event because of personal reasons and will be replaced by rookie Mikey Wright.
After another successful Australian leg apart from Margaret River, Julian Wilson and Italo Ferreira split the lead with 13,330 points and are ahead of now retired Mick Fanning who sits in third. Wilson and Ferreira both have victories to their name and look the part early on in the title race.
Last year Adriano de Sousa won this event ahead of Australian Ace Buchan in a close final. Adriano is a huge threat to his competitors, having won this event twice and also recording three final appearances. Adriano is ranked tenth in the current standings and is yet to record a finals appearance, after being knocked out in the third and fourth round.
Will this be the event that John John Florence begins to creep back into title contention? Ranked 20th and sitting without a final appearance this season,this is certainly a feeling Florence hasn't felt for some time and will be interesting to see how he reacts in Brazil. Florence has won this event twice, his most recent was in 2016 and he also won the event in 2012. Even though Florence has won the event twice, Rio has been one of his most inconsistent contest. The two wins are is only final appearance in the five five years in Rio.
Australian Matt Wilkinson is another behind the eight ball, ranked way down the line in 24th position, Wilko needs a spark and he needs it quick. His strengths the last two years have been the contests in Australia, which have led him to finish fifth in the last two years. The big powerful goofy foot hasn't done a lot of damage in Rio in the past but he did scrape in a third last year.
Small conditions are scheduled at the start of competition so we might see some lay days ahead early but round one is still just around the corner. The Rio Pro will feature 13 local Brazilian surfers this year, can the Brazilian charge keep the title in Rio? or will the likes of Owen Wright, Julian Wilson or John John Florence spoil the fun?
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