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Battle for the Final 5 Sparks in Opening Rounds and First Eliminations

Goofy-footers Sweep Opening Round, Joined by Wildcard Silva; Simmers, Picklum, and Hennessy Progress to Quarterfinals, Hold Top 5 Positions

27/Jun/2024 - WSL

PRAIA DE ITAÚNA, Saquarema, Brazil (Wednesday, June 26, 2024) - The ocean came to life today at the VIVO Rio Pro Presented by Corona, Stop No. 8 on the World Surf League (WSL) 2024 Championship Tour (CT). After four consecutive off days, featuring stunning weather but only small waves, the powerful four-to-six-foot swell that lined the beach at Praia de Itaúna was a welcome sight for the women’s and men’s Opening Rounds to get underway, followed by the women’s and men’s Elimination Rounds.

As the penultimate event before the Lexus WSL Finals, the race for the Final 5 is running hot, especially after six of the ten currently across the women’s and men’s Top 5’s found themselves in the Elimination Round today.

Goofy-footers Sweep Opening Round, Joined By Wildcard Silva

All three goofy-footers in the women’s draw, Sawyer Lindblad (USA), Tatiana Weston-Webb (BRA), and 2023 WSL Champion Caroline Marks (USA), claimed Quarterfinal slots in back-to-back Opening Round heats, utilizing their forehand in the predominant lefts. Marks was the only surfer in the Top 5 to skip the Elimination Round.

The sole CT Rookie to survive the Mid-Season Cut, Lindblad kicked the day off with the second Opening Round heat win of her young career. The 18-year-old’s only previous Opening Round heat win came in her very first CT appearance at the 2024 Lexus Pipe Pro presented by YETI, where she was an early standout. Today, showcasing her aggressive forehand attack on just two waves was enough to earn the highest heat total of the round, 11.77 (out of a possible 20), and secure her fourth Quarterfinals appearance of the season. In the process, the Californian sent current World No.’s 4 and 5, Molly Picklum (AUS) and Johanne Defay (FRA), to the Elimination Round.

“It was kind of challenging out there, there’s a lot of water moving this morning, and I didn’t think it was going to be this big,” Lindblad said. “I brought my step-up just in case and I ended up riding it out there, and I’m glad I did because there’s so much power in the surf today. I was pretty relaxed. It was so beautiful here every single day during the lay days, so it was actually really fun. I’ve been enjoying my time in Saquarema.”

Weston-Webb and Marks also found favor on their forehand in the lefts of Praia de Itaúna. Fresh off of her first victory of the season at the Surf City El Salvador Pro, Marks is on a rise through the rankings as she looks to defend her World Title and currently sits at World No. 2 behind Caitlin Simmers (USA). Simmers, the defending event winner and holder of the yellow Leader’s jersey, was sent to the Elimination Round along with wildcard Taina Hinckel (BRA) by Weston-Webb, who looked comfortable in the powerful conditions.

“The cheering that we get from the Brazilian crowd is the best in the world,” Weston-Webb said. “To surf in front of my home crowd is just such a blessing, I feel very at home here. Sometimes, the rhythm is just on one person’s side or the other, and I felt like I had the rhythm in the beginning of the heat. So it went my way and I’m really grateful because a heat win is a heat win and now I’m on to the Quarters. Super grateful.”

Luana Silva (BRA) is one of three Brazilian women in the draw to be qualified for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, along with Weston-Webb and Hinckel. After falling off Tour at the Mid-Season Cut, Silva was excited to take a heat win as a wildcard over World No. 3 Brisa Hennessy (CRC) and No. 6 Gabriela Bryan (HAW), in her first CT appearance in Brazil and move through to her third Quarterfinals of the season.

Simmers, Picklum, and Hennessy Progress to Quarterfinals, Hold Top 5 Positions

With four of the Top 5 surfers relegated to the Elimination Round, there was the potential for a rankings shake-up, however three of those four, Caitlin Simmers (USA), Molly Picklum (AUS), and Brisa Hennessy (CRC) were able to earn heat wins to move into the Quarterfinals. Current World No. 5 Johanne Defay (FRA) was eliminated by No. 6 Gabriela Bryan (HAW), but hangs on to her position for now due to a tie-break.

Event wildcard Taina Hinckel (BRA) managed to put Simmers on the ropes in the first heat of the Elimination Round before a buzzer-beater from the Californian kept the yellow Leader’s jersey on her back.

“That was just a case of, ‘What are you doing Caitlin?'" Simmers said, “I was kind of just punching myself because I blew it. I had priority, and then she got that wave. Then I was like, there’s so many waves out here, I can get [the score]. So I just found a little rip curl left and did some turns, and after the first two, I was like, ‘I think that might be it’. It’s pretty funny because, in those situations, I’m so hyper-aware of what I’m doing. You’re half blacked out but half so aware that you have to make this turn. It’s a pretty scary feeling, but I love the feeling, that’s why I do it. So I have a good time.”

Picklum claimed her fourth head-to-head win of the season over Bettylou Sakura Johnson (HAW), while Hennessy stayed just ahead of wildcard Sophia Medina (BRA) in a tight battle. The younger sister of three-time WSL Champion Gabriel Medina (BRA) was able to share her first-ever CT appearance with her brother.

Strong Start for Brazilian Men Hoping to Crack the Top 5

Brazil’s three qualified CT men, three-time WSL Champion Gabriel Medina (BRA), 2019 WSL Champion Italo Ferreira (BRA), and defending event winner Yago Dora (BRA) found back-to-back Opening Round heat wins to advance straight into the Round of 16. Currently sitting at No. 6, 7, and 8 on the rankings, respectively, all three are hopeful to crack into the Top 5 with their results at home in Brazil.

Medina had the most impressive start, picking up the first excellent score of the event, an 8.00 (out of a possible 10) for a diverse combination of forehand maneuvers, including a smooth opening full rotation. Sporting fresh rail sprays on his surfboards that feature the Brazilian flag, the crowd favorite backed it up with a 6.93 for another critical forehand air reverse to post the highest heat total of the day, 14.93. Despite his massive international success and a Challenger Series win in the 2022 Corona Saquarema Pro, Medina has yet to make it past the Semifinals at the CT level in his home nation.

“Stoked to make that first heat,” Medina said. “It’s kind of hard out there, but there’s waves, you know, we’ve been waiting a few days for it, so it feels good to get a few good waves and get going and I’m really happy with the win. Brazil is a special one for me. I really want to do good here. I’ve been doing what I know, like training and keeping the faith. One day the Brazilian event is going to come for me, but I’m just letting go and hopefully I can make heats.”

Meanwhile, Ferreira kept the huge local crowd on their toes. Looking at his watch as he took off with 40 seconds to go and in need of a 6.95, the Olympic Gold Medalist took to the lesser-used right and launched a near full-rotation on his backhand, before closing it out with two solid reentries. The beach erupted after a long wait for the score revealed a 7.50 and the heat win over Liam O’Brien (AUS) and Crosby Colapinto (USA), who held the highest single wave score of the day, an 8.17.

Top Ranked Men Push Through to Round of 16, Led by Australian Teammates Robinson and Ewing

Mixed Opening Round results for the men’s Top 5 saw two-time WSL Champion and current World No. 1, John John Florence (HAW), and World No. 3, Griffin Colapinto (USA), sent to the Elimination Round, while No. 5 Jordy Smith (RSA) joined No. 2 Jack Robinson (AUS) and No. 4 Ethan Ewing (AUS) in maintaining their positions with heat wins.

Robinson and Ewing, the two members of Australia’s men’s Olympic surfing team, scored equal heat totals of 12.87 to progress into the Round of 16. Robinson's 7.00 proved to be one of the morning’s highlights. The Western Australian has strong ties to Brazil, with both his wife and coach coming from there, allowing him to feel an extra level of comfort while competing.

“It’s super good energy here,” Robinson said. “Everyone’s super excited, and it feels like another home when I come here, you know, I have everybody that I travel with all year. So yeah, I love it.”

Florence was able to defeat Saquarema local and wildcard João Chianca (BRA) in the first heat of the Elimination Round, continuing his dominance of their rivalry and pushing through to the Round of 16 with the yellow Leader’s jersey firmly in his grasp. Colapinto also survived a solid challenge from a wildcard, 2022 event runner-up Samuel Pupo (BRA), to solidify the current men’s Top 5 in the Round of 16.

For highlights and more information from today’s competition at the VIVO Rio Pro, please visit WorldSurfLeague.com.

VIVO Rio Pro Presented by Corona Women’s Opening Round Results:

HEAT 1: Sawyer Lindblad (USA) 11.77 DEF. Johanne Defay (FRA) 10.60, Molly Picklum (AUS) 7.00

HEAT 2: Tatiana Weston-Webb (BRA) 9.66 DEF. Taina Hinckel (BRA) 5.67, Caitlin Simmers (USA) 5.30

HEAT 3: Caroline Marks (USA) 11.67 DEF. Bettylou Sakura Johnson (HAW) 5.26, Sophia Medina (BRA) 4.83

HEAT 4: Luana Silva (BRA) 11.16 DEF. Brisa Hennessy (CRC) 9.70, Gabriela Bryan (HAW) 9.30

VIVO Rio Pro Presented by Corona Men’s Opening Round Results:

HEAT 1: Ethan Ewing (AUS) 12.87 DEF. Connor O'Leary (JPN) 8.83, Cole Houshmand (USA) 7.50

HEAT 2: Seth Moniz (HAW) 12.40 DEF. Kanoa Igarashi (JPN) 11.30, Griffin Colapinto (USA) 7.70

HEAT 3: Jack Robinson (AUS) 12.87 DEF. Ryan Callinan (AUS) 11.23, Samuel Pupo (BRA) 8.30

HEAT 4: Ramzi Boukhiam (MAR) 10.30 DEF. Joao Chianca (BRA) 10.27, John John Florence (HAW) 8.10

HEAT 5: Jordy Smith (RSA) 10.40 DEF. Barron Mamiya (HAW) 10.10, Imaikalani deVault (HAW) 7.17

HEAT 6: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 14.93 DEF. Rio Waida (INA) 12.60, Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) 6.87

HEAT 7: Italo Ferreira (BRA) 14.50 DEF. Crosby Colapinto (USA) 13.94, Liam O'Brien (AUS) 8.50

HEAT 8: Yago Dora (BRA) 13.60 DEF. Matthew McGillivray (RSA) 11.33, Jake Marshall (USA) 7.73

VIVO Rio Pro Presented by Corona Women’s Elimination Round Results:

HEAT 1: Caitlin Simmers (USA) 12.50 DEF. Taina Hinckel (BRA) 12.00

HEAT 2: Molly Picklum (AUS) 12.23 DEF. Bettylou Sakura Johnson (HAW) 6.90

HEAT 3: Brisa Hennessy (CRC) 8.50 DEF. Sophia Medina (BRA) 6.60

HEAT 4: Gabriela Bryan (HAW) 10.84 DEF. Johanne Defay (FRA) 4.06

VIVO Rio Pro Presented by Corona Men’s Elimination Round Results (Heats 1 - 4):

HEAT 1: John John Florence (HAW) 12.34 DEF. Joao Chianca (BRA) 7.13

HEAT 2: Rio Waida (INA) 12.70 DEF. Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) 11.07

HEAT 3: Griffin Colapinto (USA) 12.50 DEF. Samuel Pupo (BRA) 11.97

HEAT 4: Liam O'Brien (AUS) 10.66 DEF. Barron Mamiya (HAW) 7.50

VIVO Rio Pro Presented by Corona Men’s Elimination Round Matchups (Heats 5 - 8):

HEAT 5: Jake Marshall (USA) vs. Connor O'Leary (JPN)

HEAT 6: Cole Houshmand (USA) vs. Matthew McGillivray (RSA)

HEAT 7: Crosby Colapinto (USA) vs. Imaikalani deVault (HAW)

HEAT 8: Kanoa Igarashi (JPN) vs. Ryan Callinan (AUS)

VIVO Rio Pro Presented by Corona Women’s Quarterfinal Matchups:

HEAT 1: Caroline Marks (USA) vs. Sawyer Lindblad (USA)

HEAT 2: Brisa Hennessy (CRC) vs. Tatiana Weston-Webb (BRA)

HEAT 3: Caitlin Simmers (USA) vs. Luana Silva (BRA)

HEAT 4: Molly Picklum (AUS) vs. Gabriela Bryan (HAW)

For more information, please visit WorldSurfLeague.com.