With the month of April coming to an end today, next up on the Championship Tour schedule is the Oi Rio Pro in Brazil. The women are in an extremely tight battle that should extend all the way to Maui in determining a champion. But current runner-up Sally Fitzgibbons, usually a dominant force in Brazil, may not see the momentum shift in her direction thanks to a new venue this season.
Instead of the city lights of Rio, the CT will opt for the beachy vibes of Saquarema, or Itauna Beach. It’s a location familiar to many of the top Qualifying Series competitors on the men’s side, but it will be a change of pace for these dream tour wahine. Fitzgibbons enters the year’s fourth contest trailing Stephanie Gilmore by 2,800 points. In order to close that gap, she’ll have to adjust to a different style of beach break than the Rio locale.
In the six Rio Pro contests since 2011, Fitzgibbons has reached the final five times, winning twice. It’s been a spot that she can count on to remain in the world title picture and has given her a competitive leg up on the competition at a critical data point of each season. Thankfully for her, the opening leg through Australia provided some very good results because that advantage has been removed with the site adjustment.
Hopefully the change will mean good things for Tatiana Weston-Webb, as she aims to get her season going in a positive direction. Different styles have flourished in the past at Saquarema, but it could very well favor Tati’s goofy style. She has often shown the ability to unload on some heavy lefts that other wahine aren’t as comfortable on. This could certainly be another of those opportunities.
Weston-Webb has three ninth-place results to start the year, uncharacteristic for her even at this young stage in her career. Though it is where she made her CT debut, the Rio site hasn’t fully suited Tati’s style with a pair of fourth-round exits and one quarterfinal appearance in three showings. She’s currently ranked 12th on the women’s CT leaderboard, so a change might do her some good.
The adjustment may not be as beneficial to Sebastian Zietz, who has had some of his better showings at the traditional Rio beach break. Though he’s had third-round exits each of the past two seasons, Zietz made back-to-back quarterfinals in 2013 and 2014. Those were two of just four quarterfinals he made in his first three seasons on tour.
But Seabass isn’t one to dwell on negative circumstances, not that this would even qualify. He’ll be ready to compete wherever the waves are breaking best and he heads to Brazil ranked 10th in the world.
If the draw remains as is, Zietz will be in the opening round’s final heat against Julian Wilson and Miguel Pupo.
If nothing else, the change to Saquarema should eliminate any of the negative stories that sometimes correspond with Rio, such as water quality. But as long as the wave quality is up to par, the more relaxing location should still allow us to indulge with a frenzy in the water.
David Simon can be reached at email@example.com.