It’s been more than a month since the men exited the water at J-Bay. They’ve had a nice little break to regather themselves for the season’s final stretch.
That endeavor begins this week in Tahiti where Teahupoo hopefully shows its teeth just enough to provide some of those thick, hollow barrels that so many surf covers highlight.
Sebastian Zietz gets another excursion with his world tour competitors as he and Stu Kennedy take injury wildcard spots for Bede Durbidge and Owen Wright. Zietz comes into the contest slotted 10th on the Championship Tour rankings and with a few of his best contests still left on the schedule.
Seabass will open in Tahiti against Josh Kerr and Jadson Andre in round one. He’s reached the third round the past two years at Teahupoo but hasn’t ever gotten past that point. Even that same result would be a good step in keeping pace with the rest of the pack. It’s bunched up tightly from fourth place through 14th, but the top three have done a pretty good job separating themselves for now.
Matt Wilkinson still holds the season points lead, having made three finals in six contests. But John John Florence has been charging at that top spot since Rio and he’s now only 2,350 points behind. Gabriel Medina isn’t far off the pace in third place.
Wilkinson will have his hands full from the start, facing Kennedy and Brazilian wild card Bruno Santos in round one. That top ranking isn’t going to mean much once the contest is underway and Santos may actually be the favorite among this trio.
Last year was something of a coming out party for Santos when he took ninth place at Teahupoo, his only CT contest of the season. He opened with a round one win, knocked off world champion Adriano de Souza in round three and scored a 17.10 total in round four before falling in round five to Kai Otton. If he gets off to another quick start this week, it could have huge ramifications on the world title race.
Florence opens up against Davey Cathels and local Tahitian Hira Teriinatoofa. The local rarely ever surfs contests, but he’s very well known in Tahiti and could provide a major obstacle for John John.
Heat four pits Medina against Conner Coffin and Alex Ribeiro. Medina made the final last year and won this event in 2014. Once thought to be a small-wave specialist, Medina has shattered that image and will be a huge threat this week, no matter what the conditions look like.
As far as those conditions go, Surfline says there isn’t anything all that spectacular heading towards Teahupoo during the allotted waiting period. There is a small to moderate swell that could get the event going right away on Friday. With a lully week ahead, they may choose to get the early rounds completed before the number of days begins to dwindle.
In terms of darkhorse candidates other than Santos and Teriinatoofa, we should keep an eye on Jeremy Flores, Italo Ferreira and Dusty Payne.
Flores won this event last season and needs something huge to have any hope of re-qualifying via his CT standing. Ferreira has fallen out of the world title race with back-to-back third-round exits, but he was very strong in Tahiti last year and has a favorable draw. Payne has surfed so much better this year and has the skill set to score well at Teahupoo, whether it’s perfect or just chest high.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.