Many pro surfers consider the Billabong Pro Tahiti one of their favorite events of the year. When the iconic Teahupoo wave is going off, it is a sight to see and a thrill to ride. (For them, certainly not for me.)
It’s the location of Andy Irons’ final career victory, as he claimed the Pro Tahiti crown on Sept. 3, 2010 — just two months before he died. After that win, which seemed to be the comeback story that would propel him back into the ASP elite ranks, Irons labeled Teahupoo his favorite wave in the world. He once said in an interview that a very famous ride of his there is what he felt had turned around his life and career for the better.
Each year, the anticipation for Teahupoo grows throughout the season because of the inevitable fireworks that take place. This year the fireworks began a bit early, with some drama before the event even began.
In the Air Tahiti Nui Billabong Trials at Teahupoo on Aug. 10, Hawaii’s Jamie O’Brien and Brazil’s Ricardo dos Santos got into a physical altercation during their heat. The competition would place two winners into the Billabong Pro Tahiti, so emotions were certainly running high. As O’Brien and dos Santos battled for a wave, they had a confrontation in which the only bit of undisputed information is that O’Brien hit dos Santos in the face.
Dos Santos claims that it was a punch, O’Brien indicated in a Stab Magazine interview that not only was it more of a slap, but that dos Santos had first connected with an “overhand head check” and an “elbow to the head.”
Even the ensuing apology was confrontational, as the two did shake hands, though dos Santos asked O’Brien to bow his head, which he did. The Brazilian then told his Instagram followers that “Brazil, we got dignity back!”
O’Brien felt that was an unnecessary bit of kindling to a fizzling fire and that the incident was between he and dos Santos and not he and Brazil.
Long story short, neither competitor made it into the pro event and while I don’t relish the role of gossip columnist, this incident was important enough that the Association of Surfing Professionals was forced to comment on it. In its press release, the ASP stated “Allow us to reiterate Article 155 of the ASP Rulebook — Violence has no place in professional surfing and will not be tolerated.” Hopefully that’s true moving forward.
The first day of the Billabong Pro Tahiti took place Thursday and the 36 competitors completed the first round. In all three-man, non-elimination heats, the Round 1 winners were Bede Durbidge, Matt Wilkinson, Jordy Smith, Joel Parkinson, Kelly Slater, Freddy Patacchia, Kieren Perrow, Yadin Nicol, Gabriel Medina, CJ Hobgood, John John Florence and Damien Hobgood.
Those 12 advanced directly into Round 3, while the 24 others had to face off in man-on-man elimination heats in Round 2.
Kauai’s Sebastian Zietz was one of those headed to the dreaded Round 2, as he couldn’t get anything going in the final heat of the opening round. Damien Hobgood took the heat with a 13.16 total, but Zietz and Filipe Toledo couldn’t find any steady rides. Seabass totaled just a 2.60 out of 20.
Event organizers decided to begin Round 2 and Tahitian local surfer Jocelyn Poulou was the first elimination of the event. Poulou was topped by Australian Mick Fanning in the first heat of the round by a 16.37 to 10.50 total.
Hawaii wildcard Ian Walsh then pulled one of the day’s big upsets by eliminating Australian Taj Burrow, 12.40 to 8.00.
The second round was not scheduled to be completed on Thursday, so it will be concluded when organizers next give the “ON” signal.