TEAHUPO’O, Tahiti: The world’s best surfers returned to the world’s most dangerous wave for the recommencement of stop no. 7 on the 2014 Samsung Galaxy ASP World Championship Tour (WCT), the Billabong Pro Tahiti, this morning and the action reached a fever pitch as the original 36-person field was whittled down to the final 12.
Following three consecutive lay days, a massive swell started filling in this morning at Teahupo’o, delivering solid 10-to-12-foot-plus barreling waves, as well as two Perfect 10’s, before the day was finished. With conditions steadily improving, the electrifying day of competition ran through the final heat of Round 2 followed by Round 3.
Portuguese powerhouse, Tiago Pires, was in excellent form against current ASP World No. 4 Taj Burrow (AUS) in the opening heat of Round 3. He posted two near-perfect scores, a 9.00 and a 9.67, to leave the Australian veteran in a combination situation with just minutes remaining. Pires, looking to improve on 28th place on the rankings, moves through to Round 4 courtesy of an 18.67 two-wave heat total and the first upset of the day.
“I really like these kind of waves and barrels,” said Tiago Pires. “I love Tahiti and it’s been a few years since I got a result here. My plan was to be selective and it worked. I think it’s safe to say that was my first good heat of the year so I’m really psyched and excited for my next heat.”
Round 3 Heat 6 saw an epic battle between World No. 1 Gabriel Medina (BRA) and wildcard Nathan Hedge (AUS). Just minutes into the heat each of the surfers had posted scores in the excellent range and the two continued to go head-to-head. Hedge, who notched the first Perfect 10 of the event in Round 2, lost momentum after a crushing wipeout left him battling the turbulent white water. In the meantime, Medina continued to drive through the double-overhead barrels with astounding confidence posting another nine-point ride and securing the win with an 18.80 heat total.
“This is my third time in Tahiti and every time I come it’s so fun so I’m always excited to come back,” said Gabriel Medina. “I was worried about facing him (Nathan Hedge). He surfs this wave so well and he’s a tough guy to beat. I’m stoked and I’ve never got so many barrels, I was claiming every single wave.”
Brett Simpson (USA) caused the biggest upset of Round 3 when he eliminated World No. 2 Joel Parkinson (AUS) in Heat 7. Despite suffering a heavy wipeout and hitting the reef he recovered with two high-scoring waves to take the lead. The Tour veteran tried to comeback in the dying seconds but couldn’t find the score needed to avoid elimination. The win sees Simpson secure a Round 4 berth for the first time this season.
“I definitely gained some momentum from that win,” said Brett Simpson. “My main thing is to look at the waves and think about whether I can make them. It’s not about charging for me. I couldn’t kick out of my first wave so I hit the bottom. I hit pretty it hard but was able to bounce back and got my best wave shortly after.”
Hawaiians John John Florence and Sebastian Zietz took to the water for one of the most highly anticipated heats of the day and the pair did not disappoint. Barrel-riding prodigy Florence took the win by posting the highest two-wave heat total of the competition so far, a near-perfect 19.93, and the second Perfect 10 of the competition. Zietz also put on a stellar performance, notching two nine-point rides, but it wasn’t enough to take down Florence.
“I just went for it out there today, I’m really stoked it picked up and I’m so happy to get some waves,” said John John Florence. “The last few heats I’ve had I haven’t really got too many waves. The ten-point wave I got was crazy, I just hoped for the best and it worked out.”
The next heat of Round 3 saw no shortage of excitement as Kai Otton (AUS) and Nat Young (USA) got off to a high-scoring start with a pair of eight-pointers in the goofy-footer face off. Otton followed this up with arguably the deepest barrel of the event, earning a Perfect 10 and taking the lead. The 2013 ASP Rookie of the Year answered with a perfectly executed steep takeoff for a nine-pointer that nearly closed the gap. With fewer than five minutes on the clock Otton held the win by a mere 0.11 points and Young needed a 9.05, which he was unable to find. The win will securs Otton his best result of the season.
“I knew Nat (Young) would be ready for this event, he always gets 15 points or more and I knew he would be hard to beat,” said Kai Otton. “This contest is pretty pivotal in my career because I haven’t put much together this year, even though I’ve had a few good heats.”
With the crowd roaring on the massive swell 11-time ASP World Champion Kelly Slater (USA) put event standout Jadson Andre (BRA) to the test, notching a 9.00 off the bat for tucking into a tight barrel. Slater put on Teahupo’o clinic posting three nines in the opening 10 minutes of Heat 10 and finished the heat with five nine-point rides. Andre was left in a combination situation and leaves the competition in equal 13th place.
“This is probably the best I’ve ever surfed ‘Chopes,” said Kelly Slater. “It’s just big enough for that outside ledge to go hollow. I would say it’s almost safe out there. It’s 15 feet or so and this is where it gets beautiful.”
Dion Atkinson (AUS) delivered the final upset of the day when he eliminated reigning three-time ASP World Champion in the last heat of Round 3. With the swell peaked the pair got off to a slow start but the set they were looking for arrived at the 18-minute mark. The rookie took a huge drop to post a 9.50 and, after a brutal wipeout, Fanning answered with a midrange five. In the final minutes Atkinson found a backup score and secured the win.
“It feels bloody good,” said Dion Atkinson. “I’m surfing for my survival but these guys are surfing 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 dialed now but I’ve taken a few days of floggings.”
Surfline, official forecasters for the Billabong Pro Tahiti, are calling for:
Very solid, mid-period SSW swell continues to build overnight and through tomorrow. Light-plus E Trade winds returning for tomorrow morning.
Event organizers will reconvene tomorrow morning at 7:15 a.m. to assess conditions for a possible 7:30 a.m. start.
Billabong Pro Tahiti Round 2 Results (1st to Round 3, 2nd finishes Equal 25th):
Heat 12: Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 13.27 def. Adam Melling (AUS) 8.83
Billabong Pro Tahiti Round 3 Results (1st to Round 4, 2nd finishes Equal 13th):
Heat 1: Tiago Pires (PRT) 18.67 def. Taj Burrow (AUS) 13.57
Heat 2: Adrian Buchan (AUS) 16.33 def. Josh Kerr (AUS) 14.73
Heat 3: Michel Bourez (PYF) 14.90 def. Aritz Aranburu (ESP) 14.77
Heat 4: Kolohe Andino (USA) 18.10 def. Mitch Crews (AUS) 10.17
Heat 5: Bede Durbidge (AUS) 13.10 def. C.J. Hobgood (USA) 13.10
Heat 6: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 18.80 def. Nathan Hedge (AUS) 13.44
Heat 7: Brett Simpson (USA) 16.23 def. Joel Parkinson (AUS) 13.17
Heat 8: John John Florence (HAW) 19.93 def. Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 18.50
Heat 9: Kai Otton (AUS) 18.17 def. Nat Young (USA) 18.06
Heat 10: Kelly Slater (USA) 19.44 def. Jadson Andre (BRA) 6.43
Heat 11: Owen Wright (AUS) 18.36 def. Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 5.36
Heat 12: Dion Atkinson (AUS) 16.50 def. Mick Fanning (AUS) 5.94
Billabong Pro Tahiti Round 4 Match-Ups (1st to Quarterfinals, 2nd and 3rd to Round 5):
Heat 1: Tiago Pires (PRT), Adrian Buchan (AUS), Michel Bourez (PYF)
Heat 2: Kolohe Andino (USA), Bede Durbidge (AUS), Gabriel Medina (BRA)
Heat 3: Brett Simpson (USA), John John Florence (HAW), Kai Otton (AUS)
Heat 4: Kelly Slater (USA), Owen Wright (AUS), Dion Atkinson (AUS)
Follow Commentary Box Sports on Social Media!