Oi Rio Pro can take season in various directions

Perhaps it’s fitting that today is Mother’s Day because I think of my grandma whenever I see the words “Oi Rio Pro” written out. That Oi at the front really rings in my head with her heavy Brooklyn/Florida emphasis.

And with the reports out of Rio these days, it may also be what all the surfers are silently saying to the themselves about the next stop on the Championship Tour schedule.

But the season will resume Tuesday in Brazil, where current world No. 2 Sebastian Zietz will try to keep building upon his best stretch on the CT.

World No. 2 Sebastian Zietz — that’s pretty cool to say. But Seabass now has the task of backing up his previous win at the Margaret River Pro. He’s not really the good-natured underdog anymore. He’s sitting above a host of surfers all hoping to creep back into the world title picture after a funky start to 2016.

Zietz begins his contest against Ace Buchan and Matt Banting. Banting has struggled in his return from injury that held him out of last year’s final six contests. He’s won only one heat in the year’s first three events.

Current points leader Matt Wilkinson will have to contend with a pair of local Brazilian talents in Miguel Pupo and Bino Lopes. Wilko still holds a healthy lead at the top of the rankings with 24,000 points on the season. Seabass is second with 15,750.

With all the time off since Margaret River, we’ll see if the season begins to turn around or continues this surprising trajectory. Kelly Slater, Gabriel Medina and John John Florence have won a total of 10 heats all year. Is Rio the spot where that changes?

The women’s side has been wildly entertaining and should continue to provide some great matchups. Current yellow jersey owner Courtney Conlogue will open up against Silvana Lima and Bronte Macaulay. Conlogue has reached the final in each of the year’s first three events, winning once against Sally Fitzgibbons and losing twice to Tyler Wright.

The pair of victories for Wright in her home country put her just 800 points behind Conlogue at the moment. She’ll begin her Oi Rio Pro against Nikki Van Dijk and Coco Ho.

Tatiana Weston-Webb is fourth on the CT after back-to-back semifinal appearances. To repeat that performance, she’ll have to begin in round one against Malia Manuel and Keely Andrew. It’s been a matter of when, not if Tati would make her way into the world’s top five. But it happening in just her second full season on tour and with such a deep field of competitors is impressing everyone.

Manuel knows what it’s like to finish a season in the top five, as she did in 2014. It’s been a solid but not spectacular start to her 2016 campaign. No early exits, but no semifinals have her in a tie for eighth entering Rio. I think we’re about to see a big stretch for Manuel between Rio, Fiji and the U.S. Open. Her surfing has been on point and if she gets a break here or there, she’s poised to make a move.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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