Day one of the Billabong Pro Tahiti got in the water Saturday and made it through eight of the 12 first-round heats. It wasn’t a great Teahupoo session, with long lulls of inactivity mixed in to some nice tube rides. But most of the favorites managed to sneak through for a spot in round three.
One of those favorites was Mick Fanning, who made his first contest appearance since his shark encounter during the final of the J-Bay Open in South Africa. Fanning had to contend with Teahupoo specialist Taumata Puhetini, as well as fellow Aussie Adam Melling. But Fanning, who entered the event in second place for the season on the World Championship Tour rankings, picked up the two best waves of the heat, pulling medium scores for a 12.17 first-place total. He’ll jump directly into the third round with what turned out to be the third-highest total of the first eight heats.
Kauai’s Sebastian Zietz had to sit through a frustrating heat that saw very few barrel opportunities. He ended up in second place behind Julian Wilson, sitting on his board most of the heat and waiting for anything of note to come through the lineup. The only wave came to Wilson early on, a barrel that allowed the Aussie to stand tall and come out cleanly for an 8.33 score. But even with that big number going against him, Zietz needed just a 4.67 in the dying moments to overtake Wilson. Yet the ocean stayed calm, allowing Wilson entry into the third round while Zietz and injury replacement Garrett Parkes will face do or die second-round heats.
Seabass had made it to round three in the year’s first five contests before a second-round exit at Jeffreys Bay. Another 25th place result would be his second straight throwaway and allow him virtually no wiggle room the rest of the season, with his current standing at a tie for 23rd.
Oahu’s Keanu Asing was also unable to pull off the upset, but it wasn’t his heat’s top-ranked surfer who came away with the win. Spain’s Aritz Aranburu took control with the only excellent score of heat three, booking an 8.17 on his way to a win over Asing and Brazil’s Filipe Toledo. Toledo’s ranking has dropped down to four and Teahupoo will not be a wave that suits his aerial style, but he is still dangerous in any conditions. Asing is on a bit of a roll, having finished ninth in two of the past three events and moving into the Top 22, but he’ll need a head-to-head win in round two to even have a chance to repeat that success.
Though the conditions weren’t ideal, the result was for Maui’s Dusty Payne, who picked up a first-round win over Nat Young and Kai Otton. Payne, who is so strong in big waves, has had a rough season to this point. He had only made it beyond round two twice in six tries, but he’ll be a participant in round three this time around. Payne would need a very big finish to the year if he wants to re-qualify with his WCT ranking, but coming into this event ranked 35th makes such a task very difficult. He’s been streaky in the past, so a strong finish isn’t out of the question, but it’s going to take much more than some first-round wins to make it happen.
John John Florence and Freddy Patacchia Jr. are still yet to surf, but they’ll be going against each other and Bede Durbidge when heat 11 enters the water.
Kelly Slater got the day going with a fine performance, locking up a first-round win over Jadson Andre and Brett Simpson. Slater set the tone with a steep drop into a barrel for a quick cover and a pretty exit for a 7.83 score. He backed that up with what looked like a more difficult ride but not as pretty a wave, coming through the spit for a 7.27 from the judges. The 15.10 total had his opponents comboed for the duration and Slater, who comes into the event ranked sixth on the CT, will head into round three.
Current points leader Adriano de Souza will make his event a bit longer after falling in his opening heat to wild card Bruno Santos. He’ll now have to contend with the other wild card, Puhetini, in an elimination second-round matchup. This isn’t a wave that suits de Souza’s style, but he is certainly one of the tour’s best competitors and won’t be giving up that gold jersey without a supreme effort. But a loss to Tuhetini would guarantee a new points leader.
Action will resume with four first-round heats still on the slate before the second round gets under way. Officials will signal a go when the conditions seem optimal and the event will be carried live on Oceanic Surf Channels 250 and 1250. Tahiti sits in the same time zone as Hawaii, so today’s call will be at 8 a.m. HT.