It’s a long season that usually involves various twists and turns throughout, but at this very moment, we couldn’t have asked for a closer world title race for both the men’s and women’s Championship Tours.
With the Oi Rio Pro proving to be an absolute slugfest that had very little rhyme or reason to many of the results, Brazilian product Adriano de Souza ultimately earned the victory to jump back squarely into the world title picture. In fact, that world title picture is basically a selfie with four guys all trying to have their face in the center of the frame.
John John Florence remains up top, but it’s by the slimmest of margins after his 13th-place result in Rio, ousted at the hands of local wild card Yago Dora. Florence had made the semifinals in all three events to start the year, but the young Dora sent him back towards the rest of the pack.
The three men currently on his heels have identical results and point totals through four events. Jordy Smith, Owen Wright and de Souza have each taken a first, two fifths and a ninth, totaling 24,400 points to seriously threaten Florence’s 24,750.
Resembling the women’s tour from a few years back, this top four has put some serious separation between itself and the rest of the men’s field. Matt Wilkinson is next in line, but he sits well back with 16,750 points. Joel Parkinson, Kolohe Andino, Filipe Toledo, Caio Ibelli and Gabriel Medina comprise the rest of the top 10.
Though Florence has to remain the favorite to repeat as champ despite the now narrow lead, both Smith and de Souza should remain in contention all season. As another former world champ, de Souza understands the pacing necessary to finish the year on top and has that steady competitive attitude, which has served him well. Smith’s biggest obstacle has usually been remaining healthy. If he accomplishes that, there’s little reason to believe he won’t challenge John John through Europe and head into Pipeline with a victory scenario still possible.
Wright seems most likely to be the odd man out when it’s all said and done. It’s certainly not a talent issue, but it’s difficult to know what his pacing and conditioning will be like as he works through his first full season returning from injury. He’s probably more susceptible to the early-round loss than the other three at this stage.
For the women, Tyler Wright picked up her first win of the season in Rio, besting Johanne Defay in an impressive final. Wright had to surf every round, never gaining advancement via a non-elimination heat. But she went 5-0 in head-to-head matchups to put herself in a first-place tie with Stephanie Gilmore for the season.
Wright and Gilmore have identically varied results through four contests. Each owns a first, a second, a third and a fifth-place result for 29,700 points. Sally Fitzgibbons is barely behind in third place with 28,200 points.
Far be it for me to discount a six-time world champ, but it feels like things are heading in a more positive direction for Wright than for Gilmore. While there’s virtually no separation between the three, it’s going to take a big effort for anyone else to take the title from one of the Aussies. Johanne Defay, Courtney Conlogue, Nikki Van Dijk and Lakey Peterson remain within striking distance with Conlogue the most likely to emerge from that group.
All the way down in eighth place sits Carissa Moore after her second-round loss in Rio. It’s her worst event finish since 2010 and Moore will need to make final heats her new home if she has a chance at a fourth world championship.
It’s either a literal or virtual tie for both the men’s and women’s world titles at the moment, which makes every heat for every contender a must-see event. Unlike the inevitable Cavs-Warriors NBA Finals we’re about to get (and always knew we would), there aren’t many indicators for WSL supremacy.