Competitors Dropping Out, Event Site Damaged In Rio

image1Gabby, buried in brown. Photo: Rafael Moura

I think it’s time we talk about Rio.

This Brazilian metropolis has lots of cool things. Waves. G-strings. Giant Jesus. But, it’s got some pretty not-good things too. Chronic political turmoil. Poopy water. Voracious surf fans. It’s a polarizing place, this Rio.

And as polarizing things tend to do, Rio has divided the Tour. Rumor has it, last year’s event was the breaking point for many WSL elders. So far, Joel Parkinson, Kai Otton, Taj Burrow, and (obviously) Mick Fanning have allegedly pulled out of the 2016 Oi Rio Pro. They’ve had enough of the sewage-related illness, sub-par waves, rabid fans and reportedly corrupt jet-ski drivers. And who can blame them?

Over the years, countless competitors have cited sickness during or directly after the event in Rio. In a recent article, Surfline got in touch with Rio local and surf journalist Jose Adler, who explained the extent of the health issues. “When it’s outgoing tide, with an east current and wind, the water gets really muddy and smelly. Out of 150 locals that I know who surf here all the time, three have gotten hepatitis.”

With this in mind, as well as damage to the event site at Postinho due to swell, the WSL has made the decision to relocate 10 miles west to a national park called Grumari – which will become the new “main” event site, with Postinho as the backup. According to Adler, “[Grumari is] a very good wave. It’s usually a couple feet bigger, but not as hollow as Postinho.”

The next issue is the waves. As the old saying goes, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and to guys like Banting, Italo, and Filipe, Rio is a tall drink of, albeit brown, water. For the aerial-averse surfers on tour, Rio is a shit-stained, closed-out beach break.

Finalists Taj and Ethan Ewing. Taj may have won, but seriously, do you see any losers in this photo?Seriously, how could you say no to this? Photo: Hammonds

So, what do you do if you don’t like the waves on your tour? Well, you make like Parko and Taj and go surf Keramas instead! That’s right — two perennial Top-5ers have made their way to the QS 1000 event held at Bali’s premier right-hander just days before the Oi Rio Pro. If they don’t happen to show in Rio, Taj, who is semi-retired, will likely face no punitive actions from the WSL. However, Parko could be liable for fines if he pulls out of Rio after his Balinese ventures.

Next are the fans. Depending upon whom you ask, zealous beachgoers have either ruined or revived surfing in Brazil. Some pros enjoy the adoration and lively environment, while others simply wish to surf their heats in relative tranquility. Either way, there’s no denying that the relentless crowds make it problematic for competitors to enter and exit the water. With Grumari now being the main event site, a traffic-ridden ten miles away to the most rural part of Rio where busses are actually not allowed, we could see a possible decline in the number of fans.

There was a shortage of American flags on the beach, so Courtney improvised. Adopted Brazilian stormtrooper takes a victory lap. Photo: @tallteefWhat’s excuse me in Portuguese? Photo: Trevor Moran

And if getting to and from the water wasn’t hard enough, there is one last issue in Brazil: the jet ski drivers. We all saw what happened to Parko last year, but what you probably haven’t heard are the crazy behind-the-scenes stories. There have been claims of favoritism, with one surfer stating that his driver refused to find a way out the back, giving him no choice but to jump off and paddle out under his own volition. On top of that, there have been accusations that non-Brazilian surfers are often dropped off in vicious rips. The best example comes from Matt Wilkinson, who was allegedly told by a jet-ski driver, “I’m going to kill you,” before the start of finals day last year. Not exactly what you want to hear from the guy who is supposed to be whipping you around at high speeds.

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 3.19.25 PM“If you wanna go and take a ride wit me we three-wheelin in the fo’ with the gold D’s…” Photo: WSL

What the hell is going on down there? Rio is unsafe on multiple levels, the fans are threateningly crazy, and the waves aren’t great. As a result, quite a few surfers reportedly won’t be attending this year’s event. So I ask, should the surfers be punished for avoiding bad waves and potential illness? Will these questionable conditions push the WSL to make a change in future years? Will Kelly make a heat, or even show up? – Michael Ciaramella