The Billabong Pro Tahiti, Stop No. 7 on the 2016 Samsung Galaxy WSL Championship Tour, witnessed a masterclass of tube-riding today as the event completed Round 1 in building four-to-five foot (1 – 1.5 metre) waves at the world famous Teahupo’o.
Matt Wilkinson (AUS), frontrunner on the WSL Jeep Leaderboard, was unable to hold off event wildcard Bruno Santos (BRA) in Round 1 Heat 6. Santos took an early lead with a 5.67 on his opening exchange, backed up by a solid 6.23. The wildcard put the pressure on Wilkinson and Stuart Kennedy (AUS) to find strong second wave scores. The Australians were not able to answer back and will battle in elimination Round 2.
“I love Tahiti, not just Teahupo’o,” said Santos. “It is my favorite wave for sure, but I love this place, the people and my family here. I feel confident in Tahiti because all my best results have been here. When you come from the Trials, it is like a warmup and you feel better and stronger. It is always hard to surf against the best guys and top seeds. I am very happy. It is very fun with beautiful barrels.”
John John Florence (HAW), current World No. 2 on the Jeep Ratings, stole the show with his incredible Round 1 performance, earning a near perfect 18.40. The Hawaiian unleashed two commanding no-grab barrels to score a 9.40 and 9.00, putting 2016 WSL Rookie Davey Cathels (AUS) and event wildcard Hira Teriinatoofa (PYF) in a combination situation. Cathels tried to combat Florence’s performance with an excellent 7.50, but still needed to earn two excellent range scores to challenge Florence. The Hawaiian will advance to Round 3, while Cathels and Teriinatoofa fight to avoid elimination in Round 2.
“That score gives me a lot of confidence,” Florence said. “I think a lot of it today is just being in the rhythm. I got in a good rhythm with that first one and then caught the second one wide. I am stoked to be moving on. Hopefully we can get more good waves like that. I do not feel any pressure at all. To go surf these open, perfect barrels with only three guys out is insane. Just to be out there in the open and go on some good waves is amazing. If anything, I am more excited than pressured.”
Gabriel Medina (BRA), former event winner and World No. 3 on the Jeep Leaderboard, dominated his Round 1 heat against 2016 WSL Rookies Conner Coffin (USA) and Alex Ribeiro (BRA). Medina started to heat up with a 5.60 and solidified his lead with an excellent 8.00. Coffin, with a 5.60 two-wave combined score, needed a 9.60 to take down the Brazilian powerhouse, but could not secure the score to move into the first position.
“Teahupo’o is a fun wave and I love to get barreled,” said Medina. “I am feeling good. I have a good house that I am staying at, a family from here, and I feel at home. I don’t feel the pressure when I come here. It is such a good place with good waves, good food and nice families to stay with. I think that makes it a lot more comfortable. I love coming to Tahiti.”
Jeremy Flores (FRA), defending event winner, will continue his hunt for a back-to-back event Title with his win against Julian Wilson (AUS) and Nat Young (USA). Flores displayed his experience at the break as he found the opportunities to earn an 11.43 combined heat score.
“It was a little hectic out there somehow,” said Flores. “It was the first heat and everyone wants to win and I was lucky enough to get that. This is the perfect wave and it is so fun. There is nothing tricky about this wave because it is just a perfect barrel so it is all about working on your technique and getting as deep as you can. It is a matter of experience and playing around with the barrel. That wave in that heat was enough to get the win.”
Eleven-time WSL Champion Kelly Slater (USA) narrowly advanced to Round 3 after a close match-up against local favorite Michel Bourez (PYF) and Matt Banting (AUS). Bourez charged with two solid 7-point rides, but Slater pulled out of a deep barrel to earn a near-perfect 9.00. The hometown hero was not able to close the 0.17 point gap, while Banting could not find a strong enough second wave score to threaten the CT veterans.
“I was a little frustrated with that priority call because I just turned around to look down the line and see if there was potential,” Slater said. “That priority call gave Michel [Bourez] second priority, which put him line for the best wave that had come in the heat. But at that point, you know what you need to do and there is no other option that to be patient. In the end it worked in my favor. John John [Florence] is surfing really well and that inspires me. Gabriel [Medina] has had a few good years out here, too. If you can read the reef and tell how deep you can be at the right speed, you can really get the good ones.”
Heat 3 saw Kai Otton (AUS) defeat reigning WSL Champion Adriano de Souza (BRA) and Miguel Pupo (BRA). The Australian locked in two strong rides, a 6.83 and an excellent 7.50, to take the win from the Brazilians. This win is Otton’s second heat win of the 2016 season and he will advance to Round 3, while De Souza and Pupo will fight to avoid elimination in Round 2.
“You do not feel that confident when you’re losing,” Otton said. “It has been a long time since I’ve had a heat win. I love this wave, but I was a bit scared today because the conditions involve more luck and I just happened to have that good rhythm today. The 7.50 was a good wave. Adriano [de Souza] was near me, but I do not think he would have got the pumps in that I got to back up a 6.8 near the end of the heat. The frontside definitely gives some advantage when it is smaller, but when it gets up around five or six foot, it evens out.”
Italo Ferreira (BRA) fired in Heat 2 against 2016 WSL Rookie Kanoa Igarashi (USA) and Keanu Asing (HAW) and will advance to Round 3. Ferreira showcased his technical barrel riding skills as he got deep in the tube for his best rides. Ferreira’s 13.50 combined heat score gave him a healthy lead over his competitors, who will surf again in elimination Round 2.
“I am so happy to have made it through to Round 3,” said Ferreira. “I got a couple good sections out there and then I think the next few days will be fun. I am just enjoying being here. I decided to stay more on the inside of the other guys and got those barrels, including that 7.50. It is hard to position really out there. I hope to keep it going.”
Adam Melling (AUS) closed out Round 1 with an incredible 17.67 heat score. Melling’s combined total included the highest single-wave score of the day, a near-perfect 9.67 and the second highest combined score of the day, behind Florence’s 18.40. Wiggolly Dantas (BRA) and Filipe Toledo (BRA) were not able to escape the combination and will surf again in Round 2.
“There was a really west wave, the first one, and I thought that there could be something behind this,” Melling said. “The wave stood right up out of the channel and I got a bit of air on the drop. It was a bit choppy, but that wave was wide open and I was stoked to get that one.”
Jordy Smith (ZAF), Sebastian Zietz (HAW), Adrian Buchan (AUS) and Kolohe Andino (USA) were among the powerhouses to win their Round 1 heats and advance straight to Round 3.
When competition resumes, up first will be current WSL Jeep Frontrunner Matt Wilkinson (AUS) and local wildcard Hira Teriinatoofa (PYF) in the opening heat of Round 2.
BILLABONG PRO TAHITI ROUND 1 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 8.00, Ryan Callinan (AUS) 3.27, Dusty Payne (HAW) 0.00
Heat 2: Italo Ferreira (BRA) 13.50, Keanu Asing (HAW) 7.40, Kanoa Igarashi (USA) 5.34
Heat 3: Kai Otton (AUS) 14.33, Adriano de Souza (BRA) 5.33, Miguel Pupo (BRA) 4.66
Heat 4: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 13.60, Conner Coffin (USA) 5.60, Alex Ribeiro (BRA) 3.47
Heat 5: John John Florence (HAW) 18.40, Davey Cathels (AUS) 12.33, Hira Teriinatoofa (PYF) 4.50
Heat 6: Bruno Santos (BRA) 11.90, Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 8.50, Stuart Kennedy (AUS) 7.37
Heat 7: Kelly Slater (USA) 15.00, Michel Bourez (PYF) 14.83, Matt Banting (AUS) 9.30
Heat 8: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 11.43, Julian Wilson (AUS) 8.20, Nat Young (USA) 5.33
Heat 9: Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 16.07, Josh Kerr (AUS) 12.03, Jadson Andre (BRA) 10.44
Heat 10: Adrian Buchan (AUS) 12.00, Joel Parkinson (AUS) 5.87, Alejo Muniz (BRA) 2.96
Heat 11: Kolohe Andino (USA) 13.50, Jack Freestone (AUS) 12.80, Caio Ibelli (BRA) 8.70
Heat 12: Adam Melling (AUS) 17.67, Wiggolly Dantas (BRA) 12.24, Filipe Toledo (BRA) 9.10
BILLABONG PRO TAHITI ROUND 2 MATCH-UPS:
Heat 1: Matt Wilkinson (AUS) vs. Hira Teriinatoofa (PYF)
Heat 2: Adriano de Souza (BRA) vs. Alex Ribeiro (BRA)
Heat 3: Michel Bourez (PYF) vs. Keanu Asing (HAW)
Heat 4: Julian Wilson (AUS) vs. Ryan Callinan (AUS)
Heat 5: Caio Ibelli (BRA) vs. Matt Banting (AUS)
Heat 6: Filipe Toledo (BRA) vs. Jadson Andre (BRA)
Heat 7: Wiggolly Dantas (BRA) vs. Alejo Muniz (BRA)
Heat 8: Joel Parkinson (AUS) vs. Jack Freestone (AUS)
Heat 9: Josh Kerr (AUS) vs. Stuart Kennedy (AUS)
Heat 10: Nat Young (USA) vs. Davey Cathels (AUS)
Heat 11: Dusty Payne (HAW) vs. Conner Coffin (USA)
Heat 12: Kanoa Igarashi (USA) vs. Miguel Pupo (BRA)