Mick Fanning (AUS), 30, two-time ASP World Champion, is entering the Billabong Rio Pro fresh off of a win at Bells Beach and with current frontrunner Kelly Slater (USA), 40, withdrawn from the event, Fanning will look to capitalize on the reigning 11-time ASP World Champion's absence to take a lead over the field. While Fanning admits that Slater's withdrawal could work to his advantage, he still has a tall task ahead in tackling the rest of the ASP Top 34.
"It's unfortunate that Kelly 's not here, but in the same sense it's sort of good that he's not,"
Fanning said. "Even though he's not here, we've still got to go out and do our job and get the results that we need. He (Kelly) went on to miss an event last year and went on to win the World Title so, he knows what he's doing."
Joel Parkinson (AUS), 31, current No. 5 on the ASP World Championship Tour rankings, got off to a solid start this year with a 5th and 3rd place results respectively at the season opening events in Australia. With a shift in conditions from the Australian pointbreaks to the beachbreak of Barra Da Tijuca, Parkinson admits that the change in conditions will play in to his strategy at this year's Biillabong Rio Pro.
"You strategy definitely changes at events, but it even changes to the day to the conditions you're surfing in that morning," Parkinson said. "It can be totally different everywhere in the world. You heat strategy is always changing, but the majority of the time, at certain breaks they don't chance a lot."
Parkinson, a seasoned veteran among the ASP Top 34, knows the next generation of high-flying talent will be a threat at Barra da Tijuca's ideal aerial conditions and the Australian is excited to take on the challenge.
"It's really exciting to see," Parkinson said. "There is a new evolution coming through, a new group of surfers and it's exciting to watch. I'm glad I'm here and get to see some of the most talented surfers to join the tour in years. They've all got huge futures."
Taj Burrow (AUS), 33, 2011 Billabong Rio Pro runner-up, took on local favorite Adriano De Souza (BRA), 25, in last year's Final and admits that competing in front of the passionate Brazilian crowd can add additional pressure in comparison to other events on tour.
"Competing against a Brazilian in front of their home crowd definitely adds an additional challenge in your heats," Burrow said. "I had the best of it last year when I had Adriano in the Final. It's terrifying, basically. Not only are they cheering for their guy when they catch a wave, but they're cheering for you when you fall off, so it's pretty intimidating. You just have to use all of that energy and turn it into a positive."
Burrow, an iconic aerialist and talented barrel-rider, is looking to capitalize on the best of what Barra Da Tijuca has to offer in order to find success at this year's Billabong Rio Pro.
"It depends on where we go, but there are some wedges out there and some little barrels," Burrow said. "Those are probably the two most entertaining things you can do in surfing, so it should be fun."
Courtney Conlogue (USA), 19, currently competing in her sophomore year on the ASP Women's World Championship Tour, is fresh off of her first elite win in Sydney and is carrying newfound confidence into the Billabong Rio Pro.
"It's definitely cool coming into this contest with the win and it really helped get past that barrier events-wise," Conlogue said. "Going into this event, it's going to be great. I'm just going into this event the same as I did the last one, taking it heat-by-heat and just hoping to have a few good heats here."
Conlogue, who spends most of her time amidst Orange County, California's beachbreak training-grounds, is looking to put her familiarity of Rio de Janeiro's similar conditions to good use at this year's Billabong Rio Pro.
"The conditions are like straight-solid Newport," Conlogue said. "It definitely helps having all of this beachbreak practice and I'm really looking forward to it."
Carissa Moore (HAW), 19, was nearly unable to compete in this year's Billabong Rio Pro due to visa complications, but the reigning ASP Women's World Champion was able to rectify the issue and is now ready to enjoy this week's event."
"I overlooked some things on my visa, but I'm so thankful that I got into the country," Moore said. "I'm looking forward to enjoying the week of competition, the people, the place and the food."
The men's Billabong Rio Pro holds a waiting period from May 9th through 20th while the women's event holds a shorter waiting period from the 9th through 13th. To watch the world's best surfers LIVE log on to www.billabongpro.com
For additional ASP information log on to www.aspworldtour.com or www.aspnorthamerica.org
Visit the Press Room on www.aspworldtour.com for news, images, transcribed athlete interviews and more.
BILLABONG RIO PRO ROUND 1 MATCH-UPS:
Heat 1: Josh Kerr (AUS), Bede Durbidge (AUS), Jadson Andre (BRA)
Heat 2: Jordy Smith (ZAF), C.J. Hobgood (USA), Patrick Gudauskas (USA)
Heat 3: Owen Wright (AUS), Raoni Monteiro (BRA), Taylor Knox (USA)
Heat 4: Adriano de Souza (BRA), Kai Otton (AUS), Willian Cardoso (BRA)
Heat 5: Taj Burrow (AUS), Kieren Perrow (AUS), Tomas Hermes (BRA)
Heat 6: Joel Parkinson (AUS), Matt Wilkinson (AUS), Peterson Crisanto (BRA)
Heat 7: Julian Wilson (AUS), Brett Simpson (USA), Fredrick Patacchia (HAW)
Heat 8: Gabriel Medina (BRA), Adrian Buchan (AUS), Yadin Nicol (AUS)
Heat 9: Mick Fanning (AUS), Damien Hobgood (USA), Travis Logie (ZAF)
Heat 10: Michel Bourez (PYF), Miguel Pupo (BRA), Tiago Pires (PRT)
Heat 11: Jeremy Flores (FRA), Heitor Alves (BRA), Kolohe Andino (USA)
Heat 12: John John Florence (HAW), Alejo Muniz (BRA), Adam Melling (AUS)
BILLABONG WOMEN'S RIO PRO ROUND 1 MATCH-UPS:
Heat 1: Courtney Conlogue (USA), Lakey Peterson (USA), Sage Erickson (USA)
Heat 2: Tyler Wright (AUS), Paige Hareb (NZL), Justine Dupont (FRA)
Heat 3: Stephanie Gilmore (AUS), Sarah Mason (NZL), TBA
Heat 4: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS), Rebecca Woods (AUS), Melanie Bartels (HAW)
Heat 5: Carissa Moore (HAW), Coco Ho (HAW), Jacqueline Silva (BRA)
Heat 6: Laura Enever (AUS), Malia Manuel (HAW), Pauline Ado (FRA)