TEAHUPOO, Tahiti — Reigning ASP World Champion Mick Fanning suffered his first last place finish in two years at the Billabong Pro Tahiti, yesterday. After waiting for six days to commence competition, all of Round 1 and the first five heats of Round 2 were run in perfect four to six foot waves at Teahupoo today.
Fanning was relegated to the sudden death round after finishing a tenth of a point behind Pancho Sullivan in a low scoring Round 1 heat. He failed to find his rhythm in Round 2 too, losing to Brazilian Wildcard Bruno Santos in the dying seconds of their duel.
“Things could be better,” Fanning said. “Every wave was a battle for fours and fives out there. They weren’t opening up and then I was either too wide or too deep — I couldn’t find the happy medium, but it happens. The waves were good, I wasn’t good.”
Fanning made the final of the Billabong Pro Tahiti last year and finished in the semifinals or better in 11 of the last 13 ASP world tour events. His equal 33rd finish yesterday is his first since bowing out early at Teahupoo two years ago. Surfers two results at year’s end.
“It’s been a couple years,” Fanning said. “I’m just going to throw this one away — there are a lot of events left so I’m going to go home and get focused again.”
Santos trailed Fanning the entire heat but only needed a 3.34 to change the situation. He beat Fanning 10.00 to 9.17 when he earned a 4.17 on wave he caught as the heat-end hooter blew.
“It was a really bad heat because the waves were so good and I couldn’t find a wave better than five points,” Santos said. “It was a bad heat but at the end I just found a little barrel. I almost fell but I made the barrel and I got the score.”
Eight-time ASP world champion Kelly Slater was also forced to surf Round 2 after finishing second to local wildcard Manoa Drollet in Round 1. Slater, the 2000, 2003 and 2005 winner of the event, beat wildcard Jamie O’Brien 18.70 to 13.90.
“Jamie is a great surfer and one of the best tube riders of all time so I knew it was going to be a tough heat,” Slater said. “The thing I thought about going into Round 2 was that I’ve got another wildcard now, who is probably the best wildcard. Instead of thinking about losing earlier I was thinking that there were three waves at the end of the last heat that Manoa kept me off that I could have easily got my scores on, so the heat was a lot closer than it looked since we were basically even on one wave. You’ve got to play on your strengths and be realistic about your situation.”
Slater only surfed Round 2 once last year and prior to his Round 1 loss yesterday, hadn’t lost a heat this season. He has won the first two stops on the 2008 ASP world tour.
“Obviously streaks are nice but all streaks come to end,” Slater said. “The thing about it is that you just have to take your losses and learn something out there and I think I did that. I had the waves to win in that first heat but I just got held off on a couple. I figured with priority I would be able to be a little more ive, take my time and be where I want on the wave. I probably caught eight closeouts in that first heat because I had to go so deep every time.”
Slater will meet Drollet again in Round 3, but the local surfer will go into their bout with added confidence having won yesterday.
“It’s excellent to beat Kelly,” Drollet said. “I feel bad, he was a bit pissed, but it’s a contest. I was lucky to get the best two waves of the heat, Kelly got one in the end and he almost came back. In this competition, the guy who gets the good waves is going to win the heat, and that was me.”
Drollet is the only local surfer in the 2008 edition of the Billabong Pro, the Tahitians often eliminate world tour surfers at Teahupoo, but a local has never won the event.
“I got third once and C.J. Hobgood knocked me out of the contest that year, that was nine years ago,” Drollet said. “Of course, I dream of winning this contest but I don’t want to get ahead of myself. They’re all good and they all know the wave as well as I do. I will take it wave by wave.”
The heat of the day was surfed by Adriano de Souza who found two deep barrels to post a near perfect 19.53 out of 20.00 and advance over Kieren Perrow and Miky Picon. His heat total yesterday is by far the highest of his three year ASP World Tour career.
“I’ve come here many times to Teahupoo and I always get good waves but I can never show that in my heats so today I’m pretty happy, it’s my day,” de Souza said. “I’m really happy to get the huge scores, hopefully I can keep the same determination and the same focus for the next heat because I’m hoping to finish this contest near the Final.”
Top-seeded surfers Andy Irons, Joel Parkinson and Taj Burrow made their Round 1 heats yesterday and move straight to Round 3. World No. 2 Bede Durbidge fought back in Round 2 to advance as well.