With a rising swell and after a weekend of lay days, the Billabong Pro Tahiti was called on this morning, with plenty of action going down in Round 3! The remaining surfers took to the stage once again, all eager to take the title of the event and of course ride some of the most perfect waves on Planet Earth with only one other competitor.
Heat 1 of Round 3 saw Taj Burrow meet Tiago Pires in the pumping 8 foot conditions at Teahupo’o. The heat saw a restart and it was soon after the hooter that Pires opened with a solid score of 7.50. Burrow was soon to answer, however only managed to earn a 6.17. The head to head battle continued between the wildcard and tour veteran, though it was Pires who continued to paddle into the better waves, earning himself near perfect scores in the 9′s. Taj was sent packing as Tiago Pires gets ready to face his next challenge at the infamous reef break.
“I love this wave and it’s been a few years since I got a result here,” Pires said. “I was hoping for a good wave and I was pretty selective and it happened. It’s safe to say this is my first good heat of the year so I’m really psyched.”
An all Aussie Heat 2 was ready to tear apart the Tahitian line-up as Adrian Buchan and Josh Kerr hit the water. Both competitors knew what the were after instantly, waiting for the bigger sets. Kerr cracked as Buchan remained patient. This eventually paid off for Buchan as he scrapped into a terrific score of 9.00 in the final 10 minutes, leaving Kerr’s smaller wave selections far behind. Kerr was unfortunately sent packing, while the reigning event champion advances once again.
“I have a couple big days coming up, I’ve been surfing heaps,” said Buchan. “Being defending champ has given me the extra motivation I’ve been struggling to find this year… We’ve got a great forecast. I’m going to enjoy every moment, and try to surf some great heats.”
Local hero Michel Bourez next battled an inform Aritz Aranburu in the sudden death heat of Heat 3, Round 3. It was a close heat all the way through with both surfers exchanging perfect Teahupo’o waves again and again. In the end however, it was local lad Michel Bourez who eliminated Aranburu thanks to his clean exits of the barrel. It was a narrow win with just 0.13 separating first from second, but a win nevertheless. Californian Kolohe Andino took to the perfect waves next against Aussie ripper Mitch Crews. Though the Aussie tried to remain strong, it was Andino who wowed spectators in the pumping conditions. With a combination score of 18.10, Crews simply could not catch the Californian and was sent home.
“I was here for a week before the event started, and you start to trust yourself and trust your line-ups’ said Andino. ”I’m Just trying to push myself. Both my waves I thought were closeouts, but I felt I should go because those are the ones you can get eights and nines.“
The next heat was one to not miss as tour veteran C.J. Hobgood came up against Bede Durbidge. The waves were pumping and both surfers did not hold back, both accumulating great scores with their barrel riding skills. Durbidge took the lead first, and although it was slight, he maintained the first place position. Hobgood eventually paddled into a screamer in the final moments, getting a long tube ride and forcing a tie, both surfers sitting on 13.10. It was the comparison of the highest single wave score that pushed Durbidge through, as C.J. had to face a painful loss.
“I thought he was going to get a two,” Durbidge said of Hobgood’s last-ditch effort. “He turned a two into a 6.40 so it was a long two minutes waiting for the score to come out. It’s good to make it through. I want to get some big barrels tomorrow. I’m over the moon right now.”
We all know the efforts of wildcard entrant Nathan Hedge have been simply amazing to watch, and Heat 6 of Round 3 brought with it much anticipation and excitement as the Aussie charger faced off with the current World Number 1, Gabriel Medina. The pair lived right up to what the crowd wanted, opening the scores with 9 point rides. Medina was quick to back up with a second score of 8.93, leaving Hedge in need of another high score. A heavy wipe-out perhaps rattled the Australian, as Medina continued to clock scores onto the board, including another 9 point ride. The Brazilian World Champ proved too strong or Hedge, who leaves the competition in Round 3.
Joel Parkinson next faced American Brett Simpson in Heat 7. Being on the tour for several years now, Parko was considered to have a great competitive advantage over Simpson. Although facing a wipe-out early in the Heat, Simpson recovered and was soon to post two high scoring rides, one from a long barrel ride which impressed judges. Parko seemed rattled and tried to fight back in the dying moments, though a wave score of 7.17 could not keep him in competition.
“He goes as hard as anyone,” Simpson said. “It’s almost like when the waves gets better it’s easier for me to focus on what you need to do.”
The grace of John-John Florence was next up against Sebastian Zietz. The cool, calm and collected attitude of Florence is always a pleasure to watch and he did not disappoint in Heat 8. His first wave involved him standing high and dry in a huge barrel, resulting in a 8.77. He then clocked another score of 9.67, starting strong and leaving Zietz in a tough situation. Zietz eventually found a mid range score of 6.60, though Florence bit back once again with another high score of 9.93. Zietz was eliminated as he simply could not match the near perfect scores from his fellow Hawaiian opponent.
“I just went out there, I didn’t think it would be this big,” said Florence. “To actually be on the spot for a couple sets was really fun. This wave is a crazy takeoff, it almost looks like a closeout. I just started pumping and rode the foamball and hoped for the best.”
Nat Young came up against an inform Kai Otton in Heat 9 of Round 3. Otton was determined to win, and this was evident with his perfect 10 ride with one of the deepest barrels of the event. Young was not intimidated and fought back with a score in the 9′s after a steep drop and successful barrel ride. Otton proved too strong for the American as Nat Young was sent packing.
11 Time World Champion Kelly Slater came up next against Jadson Andre in Heat 10. There certainly was no wasting time with the champ, as he clocked in three 9 point rides in the first 10 minutes. Andre simply couldn’t not match the performance of Slater, who in the end put five 9 point rides on the scoreboard, an incredible effort. Andre, who tried to keep up with Slater rode the same amount of waves, though could not compete.
“It’s like a crazy high,” Slater said after the heat win. “I’m trying to quell it right now, and let it simmer. This is probably the best I’ve ever surfed Chopes,” he continued. “It’s just big enough for that outside ledge to go hollow. I would say it’s almost safe out there. … [It's] taller seas, but shorter intervals. Chopes doesn’t like that 18-second interval, and this is 15 or so. This is where it gets beautiful.”
It was an all Aussie affair in Heat 11, as Owen Wright and Matt ‘Wilko’ Wilkinson battled for a spot in Round 4. Wright made a name for himself at Teahupo’o when he surfed against Slater in the 2011 Final and though he was not victorious three years ago, the tube riding skills were not forgotten and he was back again to prove it. From the beginning, Wright was evidently giving it his all, making steep drops and exiting cleanly. With a combined score of 17.43, Wilkinson was left struggling for a strong combination score. He paddled into a few waves, though they could not match the performance of his fellow countryman.
With the swell at it’s biggest and best, Mick Fanning took to the line-up for the last heat of the day, up against Dion Atkinson. After a slow first half of the heat, both surfers finally got what they were looking for as an amazing set approached. Dion paddled into the first one, taking the huge drop and controlling his line through the huge barrel for a strong score of 9.50. Fanning attempted to bite back, though instead had a horrible wipe-out. Fanning eventually found a mid scoring wave, though could not match Atkinson’s earlier efforts.
“It feels bloody good,” Atkinson said of his win. “I’m surfing for my survival, and these guys for the title. I’m out there to win it, and I’m stoked I did, and got barreled in the process. I’ve got the lineup more dialled now,” he added. “Took a few days of floggings even though it wasn’t big when I got here. I’m stoked to be putting it together. “
Be sure to stay up to date with all the action from the Billabong Pro Tahiti here on the SurfStitch Blog! With Round 4 scheduled to start tomorrow, we will all be one step closer to finding out who will be crowded champion of the 2014 event! Good luck to the remaining competitors! Until then, check out all the action from Round 3 below.
*All imagery by ASP