TEAHUPOO, Tahiti — Australian surfers Taj Burrow and Mick Fanning will enter the Billabong Pro Tahiti ranked equal first in the world when the Foster’s ASP World Tour heads to Tahiti from May 4 to 14.
Fanning and Burrow dominated the Australian leg of the tour claiming events at Snapper Rocks and Bells Beach respectively, but neither has earned ultimate honors at Teahupoo, the third of 10 stops on this year’s tour.
Fanning, who has claimed elite tour victories in Austral-ia, Brazil and South Africa, has never won an event in the South Pacific, in fact, he finished dead last in the Billabong Pro Tahiti in 2006.
A stellar start to his 2007 title campaign prompted Fanning to fly to Tahiti for the past week to get in some extra practice, the only tour surfer to do so. Landing into a perfect 3m swell, the skillful natural footer clocked up some invaluable tube-riding experience at the nerve-racking break.
He will return to Australia, while the Billabong Pro Tahiti’s precursor, the Air Tahiti Nui Von Zipper Trials get underway.
“I think to win in Tahiti would be an ultimate,” Fanning said. “There are a few places that you dream of winning as a kid and I am sure this is one of them for every surfer.”
“I have never really done well in Tahiti,” he said. “I feel comfortable there but maybe I have never backed myself at the location.
“This year I feel a lot better about the place and hope all the bad results I’ve had there end this year.”
Burrow is coming off an equal third finish at the Quik-silver Pro Gold Coast and a win at the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach and is looking to continue his momentum as the Dream Tour ventures into the South Pacific.
“I’m stoked with my start to the year, but now it’s time to focus on Chopes,” Burrow said. “It is a tough contest to win — there are a lot of guys who specialize there.
“I’ve had some really good results in the past with a second and a third but winning Chopes is what counts, and that’s what I’ll be going for.
“I think I can do it, I will just go into the event taking all the experience and balls that I have and go for it.”
Long touted as Australia’s big hope to regain the Foster’s ASP World Title from the American and Hawaiian dynasties, Burrow admits that the fire still burns within to capture surfing’s most sought-after crown.
His recent string of results and level of surfing has been attributed to a return to focus in training and diet, something absent in the 28-year-old’s previous title campaigns.
“Well, as far as the title goes, it would mean the world to me if I was the next Aussie world champ,” Burrow said. “That’s what I’ve been fighting for my whole career.
“It is a huge task to win a world title, but it’s there for the taking and that’s what I’m aiming to do this year.”
Widely considered one of Mother Nature’s most dangerous creations, the barreling beast has seen American surfers secure victories in seven out of eight elite tour events held there.
Last year, Californian-rookie Bobby Martinez won the contest. Former ASP world champions Kelly Slater, CJ Hobgood and Andy Irons as well as tour stalwart Cory Lopez dominated proceedings in years prior.
Australian Mark Occhilupo won the inaugural ASP World Tour event in Tahiti in 1999 — the same year he went on to secure the ASP World Title.
An Australian has not won in Tahiti or earned an ASP World Title since.
Irons, former three-time ASP World Champion, won the Billabong Pro Tahiti in 2002, but hasn’t featured in a final there since.
Irons finished a disappointing 33rd in the first event on the 2007 Foster’s ASP World Tour, but bounced back to earn runner-up honors at stop No. 2 in Bells Beach, Australia.
The former champ will be eager to maintain that momentum and keep himself in title contention at the Billabong Pro Teahupoo. He currently sits at tenth in the ratings.
“I can’t wait, I’m really looking forward to Tahiti,” Irons said. “Teahupoo is one of my favorite events on tour and this year the pressure is on the guys at the top.
“I’ll just be sneaking around, hovering in the back ten and hopefully making some more ground.”
The Air Tahiti Nui Von Zipper Trials began yesterday and will be an event in itself.
The six-day trials will feature an 80-surfer draw consisting of 40 local Tahitian Teahupoo specialists as well as 40 respected international invitees.
The Air Tahiti Nui Von Zipper Trials will award two highly-coveted wild card entries into the Billabong Pro Tahiti to the winner and runner-up on Sunday.
The third official event wildcard will go to Hira Terinatoofa, the dangerous Tahitian who has a penchant sticking it to the world’s best.
The waiting period for the Billabong Pro Teahupoo begins May 4. Early swell predictions indicate a high level of activity in the South Pacific, meaning promising conditions for the idyllic location of Teahupoo, Tahiti.
The Billabong Pro Teahupoo will be Web cast on www.aspworldtour.com and www.billabongpro.com.