TEAHUPOO, Taiarapu/French Polynesia — The Billabong Pro Tahiti, Event No. 5 of 11 on the 2011 ASP World Title season, is set to commence Saturday at Tahiti’s world-famous lefthander at the “end of the road”. With campaigns from contenders for 2011 ASP World Title as well as those looking to survive the August rotation, the Billabong Pro Tahiti will host the world’s best surfers as they battle it out in the South Pacific.
Damien Hobgood (USA), 32, current No. 14 on the ASP World Title rankings and former Billabong Pro Tahiti winner, has seen a steady progression throughout the season, opening with a 25th at Snapper Rocks and 13th at Bells Beach respectively before improving with a 9th in Rio and a 5th in Jeffreys Bay. Holding an equal 9th place finish from the 2010 Billabong Pro Tahiti, Hobgood will look to better his ASP World Ranking this season at Teahupoo.
“I love Tahiti and it’s one of the best waves in the world,” Hobgood said. “That’s really all the motivation I need to go there. The fact that I’ve had a pretty good run there over the years makes it that much better. It’s a beautiful place with beautiful people and I’m always excited to go back and get barreled.”
While past years haven’t produced solid conditions for the event, a flurry of swell activity in the South Pacific could see the 2011 Billabong Pro Tahiti open the event window in sizable surf.
“I definitely like to think I’m comfortable when Teahupoo gets bigger,” Hobgood said. “That said, I think everyone on tour these days is capable of surfing anything. They can handle it when it’s small, they can handle it when it’s big. It’s about getting the right wave out there. I’ve had heats at Teahupoo where I’ve been way ahead and things can turn around so quickly. It’s an exciting spot like that.”
Jeremy Flores (FRA), 23, is no stranger to heaving barrels, having taken out the 2010 Billabong Pipe Masters. Flores’s strong support network of family and friends in Tahiti, combined with his heavy water pedigree, makes him one of the more dangerous surfers in the event.
“I’ve been going to Tahiti for a long time now and the place feels like another home,” Flores said. “I have very special friends there. I really love Tahiti and it’s definitely one of my favorite place in the world. I like getting barrels – it’s a very challenging wave we’ll see if it gets big this year. If it does, things could get very interesting and scary.”
The young Frenchman has had a rough start to the year, missing the opening event after suffering a knee injury during a warm-up surf, but has rebounded in fine form, finishing Equal 3rd in Rio de Janeiro and sitting at No. 4 on the ASP World Tour rankings.
“I haven’t had a great year so far at the ASP World Title level so I hope to do better in the next events,” Flores said. “Lately, I’ve been a lot more motivated to surf reef waves barrels like Teahupoo so I’m really looking to do good there. Hopefully the waves deliver.”
The final two wildcard positions for the Billabong Pro Tahiti were decided yesterday with Brazilian Ricardo Dos Santos (Guarda Do Embau, BRA) and local Heiarri Williams (PYF) finishing first and second respectively in the Air Tahiti Nui VonZipper Trials at Teahupo’o in Tahiti.
PAST EVENT CHAMPIONS:
2010: Andy Irons (HAW)
2009: Bobby Martinez (USA)
2008: Bruno Santos (BRA)
2007: Damien Hobgood (USA)
2006: Bobby Martinez (USA)
2005: Kelly Slater (USA)
2004: CJ Hobgood (USA)
2003: Kelly Slater (USA)
2002: Andy Irons (HAW)
2001: Cory Lopez (USA)
2000: Kelly Slater (USA)
1999: Mark Occhilupo (AUS)
CURRENT ASP WORLD TITLE TOP 10:
1. Joel Parkinson (AUS) 25700 pts
2. Jordy Smith (ZAF) 24750 pts
3. Adriano de Souza (BRA) 22250 pts
4. Mick Fanning (AUS) 19500 pts
5. Taj Burrow (AUS) 18250 pts
6. Kelly Slater (USA) 16950 pts
7. Michel Bourez (PYF) 16000
8. Bede Durbidge (AUS) 15000
9. Josh Kerr (AUS) 13900 pts
10. Owen Wright (AUS) 13900 pts