Today saw a heap of action at the 2014 Billabong Pro Tahiti, as the event was finally given the tick of approval to begin with a huge swell and plenty of big rides going down on the opening day of competition. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, the day we have all been waiting for was today, with one of the most anticipated events on the World Championship Tour living up to all expectations, with Mother Nature cooperating and putting on a perfect display of conditions for competitors.
The excitement started from the very get go, with 11 time World Champion Kelly Slater in the water first, up against Sebastian ‘Seabass’ Zietz and Glenn Hall. With pumping 6-8 foot and the sometimes even bigger conditions, not one competitor of the first heat of the event waited, all paddling in to the Teahupo’o line-up and getting a short barrel under their belts. It was Slater who led after this opening exchange, and continued to stay hungry, paddling into his next one and leaving with the contests first 9 point ride. Hall and Zietz did not throw the white towel in early, but were unable to catch the 11 time World Champion and were both knocked to the elimination Round 2.
“Right when we pulled up I saw a couple of bombs,” said Slater. “I was excited to get in the heat and get going. It was nice to get out there and get a little lineup. I’m so excited that I’m shaking. I’ve got to calm down. It’s going to be a good week.”
The excitement was far from over as Heat 2 hit the water. The crowd roared as local French Polynesian Michel Bourez paddled into position, up against Australian Matt ‘Wilko’ Wilkinson and Brazil’s Raoni Monteiro. The Tahitian was eager to prove who was boss, and finally took the lead over Monteiro after following two heavy wipe-outs. Wilkinson posted a score of 6.00 with a nice forehand barrel, though couldn’t catch the local and was pushed to Round 2 with Raoni Monteiro.
“I was really stressed out there because it’s kind of big and I didn’t surf during the free surf,” Bourez said afterward. “I didn’t realize how big it was going to be.”
Taj Burrow hit the water next with American Brett Simpson and fellow Aussie Adam Melling. Taj struck first, though was unable to escape the heavy barrel, as Simpson and Melling did almost immediately after. It was Taj to come back laughing though, as he suprised spectators and judges with the deepest take off of the contest, resulting in a huge barrel and clean exit, scoring a 6.83. Melling followed, though wasn’t so lucky and snapped his board. Simpson continued to chase Burrow and came close, though it was the Australian tour veteran who advanced directly to Round 3.
“Today is so beautiful and I wanted it so bad,” Burrow said. “It feels nice to spread out and take your time and figure out where you want to be.”
Heat 4 was up as reigning World Champion Mick Fanning hit the Teahupo’o line-up with Mitch Coleborn and Alejo Muniz. With the swell continuing to rise, Fanning was eager to push the competition to new heights. He begun by scoring a 8.83 with a huge long tube, then followed up with a mid range score of 6.00, giving him an early lead over the other two surfers. Muniz and Coleborn eventually struck, though it was short lived as Fanning fired back with an explosive 9.03, putting the others in a combination situation. Within the last 5 minutes, the reigning World Champion locked in for another 9 point ride, finishing on a near perfect score of 18.16. Fanning advanced directly to Round 3, pushing Coleborn and Muniz to elimination in Round 2.
“This morning I saw some really big thick west ones and I got tumbled,” Fanning said. “It’s straightened up a bit and conditions are just flawless. You can’t ask for anything better. It’s so clean and perfect.”
Heat 5 saw an all Australian heat, as 2012 World Champion Joel Parkinson came up against defending event champion Adrian Buchan and veteran ripper Nathan Hedge. Hedge finished runner up in the trials, proving himself worthy of a Wildcard position for this contest, something he lived up to right away as he drove through the opening barrel of the heat, locking in a score of 9.27 and taking the lead early. Parkinson and Buchan answered soon after, locking in score in the 9′s for themselves and making the atmosphere explode with interest. It was Buchan who showed his pure display of brilliance and proved to the crowd why he won the event in 2013. When asked about his high score of 9.97, Adrian said “It felt wrong taking off, I got a good pump in, for some reason I just hung on. It lifted me backwards and forwards, and I got a big projection off the foam ball. I was just shocked when I came out.”
Current World Number 1 Gabriel Medina hit the water next with other wildcard nominee and local charger Taumata Puhetini and Mitch Crews. It was quite a quiet heat until the 21 minute mark when all three surfers had a wave score locked in and were looking for another when Mother Nature answered. The wildcard began showing his local knowledge through a display of smooth rides at his home break over the next few minutes before Medina sat in one of the bigger waves of the competition, holding his arms high as the Tahitian monster barrelled over him. Medina and the wildcard battled it out toward the end, though it was the World Number 1 who progressed through to Round 3.
Miguel Pupo, Dion Atkinson and Adriano de Souza were to battle it out next in Heat 7 of Round 1. Pupo did not muck around, catching three waves within the first 10 minutes, taking the lead over the other surfers for the first fifteen minutes. Atkinson wowed spectators and judges in a big barrel following one by Pupo, as his foot slipped off and he regained composure and exited the tube cleanly for a 8.33. This stroke of luck saw Atkinson take the lead and send the Brazilians to Round 2 for elimination.
It’s been a long week waiting for this swell,” Atkinson said. “It’s pretty perfect and those are the best waves I’ve had out there by a mile. It’s good fun on your backhand and I’m stoked I got some scores.”
Everyone knows how good C.J. Hobgood can be at this wave, and it was his turn to prove it in Heat 8 against Nat Young and Tiago Pires. Young however, was the one to assert his lead early, taking two waves with one rewarding him with a high score of 9.67. C.J. struggled to find his place in the line up, having to pull off a few monster bombs that hit the reef, though gave a late comeback attempt with a score of 8.27, which unfortunately was not enough to overtake Young for the win. C.J. will have to try once again with Pires in Round 2 as Young advances to Round 3 directly.
“It’s a really difficult wave,” Young said after the heat. “It’s a lot of timing and positioning. Whether you’re goofy or natural, you have a better chance of winning if your takeoff is smart.”
Heat 9 saw Californian ripper Kolohe Andino up against Freddy Patacchia and Aritz Aranburu. Aranburu proved his skills learnt from Spain’s infamous left hander, Munduka, and overtook Andino for the lead around the halfway mark. Both Patacchia and Aranburu could not match the antics of Andino and were pushed to Round 2 as the American advanced.
“I think everyone’s intimidated, even if they don’t admit it,” said Andino. “We saw Kevin Bourez get messed up the other day and it was half this size. With that said, I still would have been pissed if I lost this heat. It’s important to avoid that Round 2. I’m stoked that I dodged that and survived.”
Josh Kerr, Julian Wilson and Jadson Andre met next in Heat 10 of Round 1. Andre opened the heat, dropping into an insane bomb and standing tall for the spectators to see before Wilson followed suit, also clocking in a good score and take the lead with a 7.17. Kerr finally struck after 18 minutes of sitting and waiting, locking in a 7.93. It was Jadson Andre who in the final minutes took the lead yet again with an amazing deep barrel ride and clean exit, resulting in a 9.17.
“I was watching every heat and I didn’t know if it would be a high scoring heat or a medium one,” Andre said. “I just tried to get waves and saw Kerrsey and Julian getting bombs. I’ve been training here a lot and I was just lucky to get a wave. I am stoked to get that first heat win, but I really need a big result here and prove I can hang with the top guys.”
Heat 11 saw the destruction of Travis Logie and Bede Durbidge, as Owen Wright conquered, despite not exiting a tube. It was Burbidge who led the heat with only a 5.40, until Wright pulled into a bomb and although he did not make the wave, he pulled the necessary scores needed to pass Durbidge for the win.
“I think it was a pretty big set, it’s hard to tell because there was so much water behind it,” said Wright of his wipe-out during the heat. “I just went for it. As soon as I got to my feet, I looked up and it was a straight close-out… I enjoyed the pounding afterwards.”
Kai Otton, the exciting John John Florence and powerhouse Jordy Smith battled it out next in the Teahupo’o line up, all set to finish Round 1 with a bang. Jordy and Kai traded small scores while Florence waited for the big tubes he is so well known for. With 16 minutes to go, Florence took one of the steepest drops of the event so far, grabbing rail and dragging stabilising for a huge tube and an impressive score of 8.83. Kai struck back, almost mirroring Florence’s attempt and rewarding himself with a score in the 9′s, though remained in second position. Jordy was caught inside and eventually picked up by the brave Tahitian Water Patrol. He was unable to catch the scores of both other surfers and joined Florence for elimination Round 2.
“The two days we had practice was all John talk. I think the whole world was talking about him so I was pretty nervous coming up against him,” admitted Otton.
Round 2 began with the prediction of running up to four heats. The two man heats of elimination Round 2 begun with Joel Parkinson up against wildcard local Tuamata Puhetini. There was no waiting for the wildcard as he locked in two scores early on in the heat after back to back barrels. Parko waited over ten minutes before locking in his first worthy ride as he locked in two scores of 7.40 and a 9.00 to take the lead. Puhetini pushed himself to his limits at his local playground, though came up second best after a second one made it apparent he was unable to continue. We will keep you updated on his condition.
Heat 2 of Round 2 then saw runner up wildcard and all round charger Nathan Hedge up against the one and only Adriano de Souza. The Brazilian scored best after the opening exchange, though Hedge showed nothing but determination to once again prove himself in at the world famous reef break. Hedge mucked around with some smaller waves, though eventually blew everyone away with an absolute killer barrel, riding it deeper than ever and clocking in with the contest’s first 10 point ride. Hedge will now advance through to Round 3 as Adriano de Souza is sent packing earlier than he would have wished.
Tune in tomorrow as we bring you the most up to date action news from Stop # 7 of the ASP World Championship Tour, the 2014 Billabong Pro Tahiti! For more action from day one, check out the incredible highlights below!
*Imagery by ASP, Pat Stacy, Kirstin Scholtz, Tim McKenna, Unknown