Slater takes out Billabong Pro Tahiti, leads World Title race

TEAHUPO’O, French Polynesia – Kelly Slater, reigning 10-time ASP World Champion, has claimed the Billabong Pro Tahiti presented by Air Tahiti Nui over Australian Owen Wright in clean 4- to 6-foot waves at Teahupo’o.

Event No. 5 of 11 on the 2011 ASP World Title season, the Billabong Pro Tahiti culminated a historic incarnation of the event Monday, with the world’s best surfers pushing the performance envelope in incredible conditions, according to the Association of Surfing Professionals.

Slater, 39, began to really pick up steam, dispatching of an in-form Australian Josh Kerr, 27, in the semifinals before meeting lethal goofy-footer Wright in the finals. The iconic American utilized his superior backhand tube-riding technique to post an 18.43 heat total out of a possible 20, which would prove too much for his younger opponent to overcome.

“I felt like I finally hit my stride in the semifinals this morning,” Slater said. “In the final, I fell on a couple of waves that were maybe better than what I ended up getting scored on. It put the pressure on me, and took the pressure off him (Wright). He got that really big one at the end that could have gotten pretty close to the score. These are the best conditions this event has ever run in. It’s been a phenomenal week.”

Coming into Tahiti rated No. 6 on the ASP World Title rankings, Slater’s win rockets the Floridian to the No. 1 spot after a number of top seeds suffered early eliminations at the hands of an unmerciful Teahupo’o.

“It’s one of those weird events where you have to scramble through the early rounds,” Slater said. “Every year at this event, there are few of the top guys that lose in the early rounds and you have to scramble if you want a result here. You have to be in tune with the tides, swell direction and everything to make sure you get those waves that get you the score.”

Monday’s win marked Slater’s 47th elite tour victory (out of 67 finals appearances).

Wright, 21, secured the best result of his young career, finishing Runner-Up at the Billabong Pro Tahiti. The progressive Australian was a standout at Teahupo’o, notching perfect rides and impressive victories with ease.

“I thought it was an incredible final,” Wright said. “We both got really good waves and I felt like I did what I needed to on them. Kelly (Slater) just happened to find ones that opened up a little better.”

Travis Logie (ZAF), 32, gained entry into the Billabong Pro Tahiti will the withdrawal of Bobby Martinez (USA), 29, from competition. Formerly sitting at the 44th spot on the ASP World Rankings, Logie’s Equal 3rd place finish at Teahupo’o moves the South African significantly up the rankings in hopes of cementing himself as an ASP Top 34 member after the September rotation.

Josh Kerr (AUS), 27, although one of the standouts in both the free surfs and the event, was not be able to overtake Slater in an inconsistent Semifinal.

“It was pretty frustrating out there,” Kerr said. “We had a little exchange in the beginning and there just weren’t any more opportunities through the heat.”

Jeremy Flores (FRA), 23, put in some of the most inspiring performances of the event, bagging the biggest waves and even surfing a Perfect 20 heat in yesterday’s idyllic conditions.

For his heroics, Flores was awarded the Andy Irons Award for most committed performance of the event. This is the inaugural year for the award, honoring the late ASP and Billabong Pro Tahiti Champion Andy Irons.

“Andy (Irons) meant everything to me,” Flores said. “He has been the guy I’ve looked up to my whole life. In heavy waves, in all waves, he was the best and to earn this award is so special for me. He inspired everyone on tour and he’s been my inspiration in Tahiti. I know he was smiling on this event. Thank you Andy.”

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