By Chesney Hearst, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Beginning today (Wednesday, May 8th) the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) returns to Rio for the Brazilian leg of the World Championship Tour. For the third consecutive year it will bring the world’s top professional surfers to compete in the waves off of Barra da Tijuca and Arpoador.
The twelve-day event will feature the top seventeen ASP female surfers battling for victory in the Colgate Plax Girls Rio Pro and the top 34 ASP male surfers vying for the Billabong Rio Pro title which includes a prize of US$500,000, the highest amount of money given in any of the world stages.
The 2013 Billabong Rio Pro is the third stop of ten along the tour for the men. During each of the events the surfers receive points depending on their final scores and in December at the Pipeline Hawaiian waves the surfer with the most points will be declared the new undisputed ASP World Champion.
In March, the Quiksilver Pro event began the tour in Gold Coast, Australia with American and eleven-time ASP World Champion Kelly Slater edging out Australian Joel Parkinson. The 41-year-old Slater is currently ranked number one in the tour and will face Australian Kieren Perrow during the round one, heat 6 match-up of the Billabong Pro.
Last month Brazilian surfer Adriano de Souza claimed victory during the second World Tour event, Rip Curl Pro held in Bells Beach, Victoria, Australia. “Winning Bells [Beach] was really emotional, and it’s really inspirational to be back here and see my friends,” De Souza who hails from São Paulo.
“I’m happy to be from here and it makes me value and enjoy everything I have today. If you come from the favela, you give it everything you have. I saw examples from the soccer guys who turned pro and knew I could do it with surfing if I put in the hard work. When I became a pro surfer, it allowed me to bring my family to a better place.”
Currently ranked fourth overall, the 26-year-old De Souza will compete first in the round one, heat two match-up against Australians Matt Wilkinson and Yadin Nicol. The Billabong Rio Pro marks a return to competition for the 27-year-old Nicol, who had been on hiatus due to a severe shoulder tear.
“Yeah I’m pretty excited to start my season,” Nicol told ASP. “I love Rio, the waves can be a little tough to surf at times but the vibe around the contest and lay days are pretty rad.”
Surfers who won’t be joining Nicol this year include the 2012 Billabong Rio Pro Champion John John Florence. The twenty-year-old Hawaiian will not be able to defend his title due to an ankle injury he sustained during the March Quiksilver Pro in Gold Coast.
Five-time ASP Women’s World Champion Stephanie Gilmore also recently withdrew from the Colgate Plax Girls Rio Pro due to a left foot injury the 25-year-old Australian sustained during the Rip Curl Women’s Pro Bells Beach, Australia.
France’s Alize Arnaud will replace Gilmore joining last year’s Billabong Women’s Rio Pro Champion, Austrailian Sally Fitzgibbons and the currently number one ranked Carissa Moore from Hawaii. Rio de Janiero resident Silvana Lima will also be present attempting to claim a victory at home.
Michael Connell, an Australian expatriate living and working (and surfing) in Rio told The Rio Times: “With the top five surfers within 2,000 points of each other it is important for the world title race but there are another seven events so it is more about building as solid base for when they get to the business end of the season in Hawaii.”
“Rio is challenging because, although the waves can get good, it is not likely to rival the perfection that the surfers will encounter at some of the stops on tour like Fiji. None the less great for us to see all the best surfers in the world right here in our back yard.” Connell concludes.
The Rio headquarters for the events will be set up at the beginning of Barra da Tijuca Beach, at Postinho with a second base in Arpoador. Weather conditions will determine the choice of beach for each competition. See the Billabong Rio Pro website for updated condions, heat schedules and the complete lists of competitors.
Luiza Maris Ramos, a Brazilian surfista in Ipanema tells The Rio Times: “The ASP is one of the most important surfing events of the year. And the choice of Rio de Janeiro by the organizers brings to our city worldwide recognition since the 45 best surfers in the world will be present. Besides being a gorgeous event, it is loaded with good vibes brought by competitors and by faithful fans and admirers of the great art that is surfing!”