A Brazilian is going to win this thing.
Steph Gilmore is a hero in Brazil. She gets so much attention, with crowds screaming and whistling whenever she heads down to the beach or surfs a wave. It’s great to see. She is treated like Kelly Slater, and deservedly so. She got beaten by an on-form Coco Ho, but it was just the seeding round so doesn't mean much.
What does matter a whole lot is if you go into the elimination round. It is an uncool place to be and surfers who end up there are generally looked upon as pariahs, rejected from the caste. It only lasts until the round has been surfed, when it recalibrates as ‘surfers advancing’ and surfers being eliminated’ but the twilight zone of the elimination round is one that surfers and spectators find severely unsettling. It’s only a matter of time before they change it however. Someone fairly important is going to complain, much like there were complaints when Christian Fletcher started getting mag covers for his ugly jumps, or when Lewis Samuels pushed too hard on his scathing Power Rankings platform. Someone sensitive is going to decide it is too demeaning for a professional sportsperson, or something.
There were so many people on the beach when Gabby headed down for his seeding round heat against Ace and Soli. The crowds do get quite ridiculous in Rio, and security is high on the beach with a handful of WSL security beefcakes protecting him from all the young women in g-strings. For some reason Gabby failed to impress at first, with everyone from Kanoa to Barton to Brickerz talking about the wonk and the warble on these average little waves. It does come across as a lovely little place does Saquarema, and the entire vibe does appear to be fun and warm. There were happy spectators, and lots of brown skin. They cheered, properly. Adriano was also treated like a demi-god by spectators despite what looked like a curly little beard that made it appear that his head was upside down at times.
With ten minutes to go Gabby woke up. He took off on a long left and managed 5.33 for four turns. Nothing special, no airs, but then he quickly picked up another walled–up left and went to town. A few turns and a bit of speed before he hucked a huge air reverse and a series of searing inside turns for a 6.77, and the surfers and the spectators suddenly saw the judging scale, and had a glimpse of what Gabby could do. That sort of score for such a wave of airs and combos meant that it was going to be extremely challenging for Ace or Soli to beat him, and it became a desperate race for second. Ace and Soli bounced a few set waves between them, and both went as hard as they could, but Ace ended up heading for the long dark teatime of the soul that is the elimination round. Good luck Ace.
Somewhat unsettling was the very quick elimination of an overzealous surf fan that wanted to get Gabby into a selfie. He was quickly removed from the picture with what looked like pretty serious force, probably more suited to someone who throws a shoe at the President or eggs a far-right Australian senator on the dome.
“I love to compete in Brazil,” said Gabby, oblivious of his fan that might or might not be nursing a few bruises inflicted from those tough bodyguards. “The crowds are good to me, and I take the motivation from them.” Indeed.
The Brazilians continued to charge forward, and before we knew it, Yago and Adriano were marching through, and Kolohe Andino was the second blonde kid heading for the stark desolation of the elims.
By the time the results started filtering through from the fourth heat, there was a trend that had been set. Filipe won convincingly, joining the rest of the Brazilians dancing around on the beach, while Sebastian Zietz fell for the curse of the blondes, and headed down to wallow in eliminations.
Filipe looked on fire out there, right in control, and the man to beat. As defending champion at both Rio and JBay, there is much at play right now.
Things started getting weird when John John was in the third position and looking to fall prey to the blonde-haired curse. It was like someone had seriously used some dark arcane arts on the white-follicled kids, but then he changed the game, busted a huge forehand air rotation into the flats for a 7.5, the heat win and to prove that all he was trying to do was make up some weird shit to manufacture an interesting story line to make the seeding round in some way interesting.