The Billabong Pro Tahiti got underway today in biggest surf of the season as the world's best battled 10-to-15 foot (3 - 5 metre) surf at Teahupo'o for Round 1 and the opening two heats of Round 2.
The seventh stop on the 2014 Samsung Galaxy ASP World Championship Tour (WCT) saw a thrilling day of competition as top seeds soared and even the most knowledgeable of surfers suffered horrific wipeouts at the world's most dangerous waves.
Round 1 started in perfect conditions and Kelly Slater (USA) showed why he’s the four-time event winner. After getting the best of the opening exchange with a 7.00, the 11-time World Champion claimed the first nine-point ride of the event. Sebastian Zietz (HAW) and Glenn Hall (IRL) were left searching for two good scores to turn the heat. The Hawaiian took the first shot but was swallowed up as the wave crashed around him. Replacement surfer Hall took his chances on a big set wave but Teahupo’o claimed another wipeout. Slater earns the direct advance into Round 3.
“I couldn’t wait to start the heat and get going this morning because it was perfect,” said Kelly Slater. “I’m so excited that I’m shaking. I need to calm myself down because I’m too excited. It’s going to be a great week and I think it’s going to get considerably bigger than this.”
Three-time World Champion Mick Fanning (AUS) put on a clinic at the Teahupo’o lineup in Round 1 Heat 4. Fanning picked up the pace with the rising swell to claim an early and dominant lead over Alejo Muniz (BRA) and Mitch Coleborn (AUS). An exchange at the midway point saw Muniz and Coleborn catch their first keepers but Fanning got into a deep pit for 9.03, putting both his opponents in a combination situation. Fanning followed this by tucking into another pristine barrel for a second nine-point ride, tallying a near-perfect heat total of 18.16 and securing the win.
“The conditions are flawless,” said Mick Fanning. “We can’t ask for anything better and I was stoked to get some good ones. It’s so clean and perfect here and that wave I got was a dream.”
2012 ASP World Champion Joel Parkinson, defending event winner Adrian Buchan and veteran charger Nathan Hedge put life and limb on the line in the building swell at Teahupo'o. The all-Australian heat saw each surfer post a nine-point ride in epic conditions. Despite a tie between Buchan and Parkinson, the defending event champ had the heat's highest single-wave score and took victory.
“Just to surf these waves, whatever happens, with all the fans watching is a huge honour,” Adrian Buchan said. “Yesterday I hit the bottom really hard and I had to go to the doctor. I really wanted to be part of today so it’s great to be here. It’s crazy and watching everyone throwing themselves into these huge waves is intense.”
ASP World No. 1 Gabriel Medina (BRA) battled local trials winner Taumata Puhetini (PYF) and rookie Mitch Crews (AUS) for a direct pass to Round 3. Medina was the first to post a score, pulling into a tube with a clean exit. Crews and Puhetni followed, and by the 21-minute mark Medina led with 8.60, ahead of Crews's 5.50 and Puhetini's 5.50. The wildcard began to show his local knowledge with a handful of smooth rides to take second place and was neck-and-neck with the Brazilian for the remainder of the heat. Crews had a few solid tubes of his own to narrow the gap but it was the ratings leader that edged the win.
“I’ve never surfed Teahupo’o like this before,” Gabriel Medina said. “It’s my first time and it’s pretty scary but I just tried to not think about it. I tried to keep focused, think about the paddle and pay attention. I’m stoked to make it through and feel like I’m living the dream. To have the opportunity to surf Teahupo’o this big and against these guys is amazing and I’m not going to waste it.”
2013 rookie of the year Nat Young (USA), 2004 event winner C.J. Hobgood (USA) and Portuguese Tiger Tiago Pires took on the pulsing Tahitian barrels in Round 1 Heat 8. Young asserted an early lead and strengthened it by navigating a huge bomb under Hobgood's priority, earning a 9.67. In an attempt to battle back, Hobgood looked at an absolute monster, but pulled back and was sucked over the falls, emerging relatively unscathed despite the scary moment. Hobgood delivered a heroic comeback attempt, earning an 8.27 immediately following his heavy wipeout, but the youngest of the trio held on for the win.
“C.J.’s wipeout was scary,” said Nat Young. “I saw him paddle for the wave and I heard everyone in the channel cheering. It was huge and he went for it, but then he pulled back at the last second and he got sucked over the falls. Out there you can’t think of what’s happened or what might happen. You have to focus on getting the waves that you want and making it.”
The heroic day of competition was punctuated with the first two heats of Round 2 which hosted no shortage of action. Round 2 saw Joel Parkinson (AUS) defeat local trials winner Taumata Puhetini (PYF). The Tahitian suffered massive wipeout that left him unable to continue in the competition. He is stable and in good spirits but has been transferred to hospital as a precaution.
Nathan Hedge (AUS) posted the first Perfect 10 of the competition in his Round match-up against Adriano De Souza (BRA) and both he and Parkinson with move through to Round 3.
Surfline, official forecasters for the Billabong Pro Tahiti, are calling for:
Tuesday will see easing swell/surf as South wind increases in the afternoon (after light AM wind). Another strong SW swell builds Wednesday afternoon and continues Thursday as wind shifts SE (Wed) to ESE (Thur). More SW swell is due for the last 3-4 days of the waiting period, although we may see unfavorable wind develop over the weekend.
Billabong Pro Tahiti Round 1 Results:
Heat 1: Kelly Slater (USA) 16.40, Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 10.34, Glenn Hall (IRL) 4.53
Heat 2: Michel Bourez (PYF) 9.66, Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 7.63, Raoni Monteiro (BRA) 7.17
Heat 3: Taj Burrow (AUS) 12.50, Brett Simpson (USA) 9.17, Adam Melling (AUS) 5.07