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Header photo courtesy of Ryan Miller
While the waves may not have impressed at Oi Rio Pro in Saquarema, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil this past week, a shake-up on the men’s side and continued parity among the women has blown both title races ride open. As we head into the mid-way point of the season, WSL CT stop #5 has added even more intrigue to the tour.
Twenty-eight-year-old Australian, Sally Fitzgibbons, proved once more that the women’s side of the championship tour is completely unpredictable in this 2019 season. Amid four-to-five feet surf at Saquarema’s beach break on Sunday, she used priority to master the final wave and stave off American Carissa Moore with a score of 14.64 to 12.57. As a result, Fitzgibbons is the new world #1 on the back of an aggregate tour score of 32,580 points. Moore follows at #2 on the Jeep Leaderboard with 31,175 points, while Stephanie Gilmore currently holds bronze honors with 30,320.
"It feels pretty delightful," Fitzgibbons said. "Just coming in and receiving that welcome back to the beach, that was insane, and some of my mates cheering me up the beach and a big hug from my dad. And I know my mum's watching out there with all my family and friends, and just the team that had my back, so it's all part of the process and they've all chipped in and it's pretty cool to be standing here.”
Thanks to three other podium placements this year, Fitzgibbons has a tentative hold on the yellow jersey after previous world #1 and fellow Aussie, Stephanie Gilmore, fell in the semis at this event. Oi Rio Pro marks Fitzgibbons’s first event title since 2017 Margaret River Pro.
While Blenders ambassador and all-around badass, Lakey Peterson, fell a bit short of the podium, she nonetheless improved her world title chances in a crowded women’s field.
After making it through the elimination round, Lakey out-dueled Aussie Macy Callaghan, 12.666 to 6.60, in the Round of 16 before falling in the quarterfinals to the eventual event winner, Sally Fitzgibbons. The performance was good enough to move Lakey up from 6th to tied for 5th on the Jeep Leaderboard alongside fellow American, Caroline Marks. Peterson finished 2nd overall in the world title race last season.
It’s apparently been a bit of a tough road for Filipe Toledo in 2019 but the man is persevering. He ripped through the men’s final off the back of a massive aerial followed by a huge tail slide, defeating South Africa’s Jordy Smith with a score of 18.04 to 8.43 and taking home the prize.
"It's been amazing. Mentally, it's been a really hard year for me because there's been some personal stuff happening to me," said Toledo. "If you're not psychologically prepared, the pressure can get to you. But this crowd feeds me energy and motivation. I've been sick these last five days, but every time I ran down the corridor to the water, the crowd gives me a boost.”
The win launches Toledo up the Jeep Leaderboard to #3 in the world. Going forward, the indefinite absence of the dominant John John Florence—who still holds the tour lead but bowed out of this event in the quarters following a re-aggravated knee injury—leaves the men’s competition in a state of flux. The title is now for the taking…
Expect everything to continue popping off in these crowded fields at Corona Open J-Bay in Eastern Cape, South Africa on July 9-22. Strap yourselves in!