TEAHUPO'O, Taiarapu/Tahiti (Thursday, August 16, 2012) - Round 1 and the opening two heats of Round 2 of the Billabong Pro Tahiti, Event No. 5 of 10 on the 2012 ASP World Championship Tour season, were completed today in shifting three-to-five foot (1 - 1.5 metre) waves at Teahupo'o and while the conditions didn't exactly mirror last year's "historic" offering, the infamous lefthander and the performances of the world's best surfers delivered nonetheless.
Adriano de Souza (BRA), 25, perennial ASP World Title contender, took top honors for the day, threading two impressive barrels on his backhand to collect a near-perfect 19.43 out of a possible 20 heat total and a Round 1 victory.
"I'm so happy right now," De Souza said. "Last year was really big and today is only four feet, but still very fun. I just had fun and caught the good barrels and the judges liked it. I'm very happy right now."
De Souza is currently logging another impressive year on tour, sitting No. 4 on the ASP WCT ratings and recently claiming a win in pumping surf at the ASP Prime event at Jeffreys Bay last month.
"I'm having a good year," De Souza said. "Every year, I focus on what I need to improve on and go out and work on it. I feel more confident at every spot, I feel strong and have good boards right now."
John John Florence (HAW), 19, current No. 5 on the ASP WCT ratings, has been on a tear of his own lately and opened today's proceedings with a solid showing in Heat 1. While the conditions sorted themselves out in the shifting morning winds, Florence (in his first competitive showing at Teahupo'o) secured solid scores for barrels and maneuvers to advance through to Round 3.
"It's actually cleaned up a lot from this morning," Florence said. "This morning was really bad. The sun's come out now though and there are a few, little barrels. It's still really fun. We're here in Tahiti and I'm loving it. I was trying to find a cleaner, open waves and do whatever I could with them," Florence said. "I had one where I did a bunch of turns and ended up on the reef and had another where I got a little barrel. It's actually scary at this size and in these conditions on your backhand because the barrels really chandelier and you can end up on the reef really quick. Pumped to get through though."
Kelly Slater (USA), 40, reigning 11- time ASP World Champion and defending Billabong Pro Tahiti winner, may have waited until the 11th hour to arrive in Tahiti, but the American was completely at ease in his Round 1 heat, finding a number of solid barrels and advancing directly to Round 3.
"I actually caught the last plane I could have caught to make my heat and I barely made it this morning," Slater said. "It's not often that the waves in California are better than Tahiti, but there hasn't been a whole lot of surf here and we've had pretty good waves at home. It doesn't look like there's a ot forecast for this year which is a shame, but there's still fun surf to be had. It's Teahupo'o and you can sometimes take for granted how beautiful the waves are here."
With nearly two decades of experience at Teahupo'o and three event titles, Slater remains one of the heavy favorites to take out the 2012 Billabong Pro Tahiti in any conditions.
"I've been coming here since '93 so it's about 20 years and I still love it," Slater said. "It's still so raw. There's no real big business here. It's all families and we stay with them and it's still a very special place."
Taylor Knox (USA), 41, current ASP WCT No. 34, served the upset of this morning's opening round, dispatching current ASP WCT frontrunner Mick Fanning (AUS), 31, into the elimination Round 2 This morning's victory marks Knox's first of the 2012 ASP WCT season, a situation he hopes to remedy in the coming events.
"It has been a tough year," Knox said. "I don't know what you do about it. You just go out and try your best. I've been working really hard on my equipment the last few months and it definitely feels different than it did in the beginning of the season. The level of talent on this tour is incredible, but it's always fun being here and being a part of it. I feel like I'm in a better place mentally and my approach is going to be much better from here out."
While Knox advanced directly into Round 3, Fanning would find redemption in his afternoon elimination Round 2 bout with lethal local Alain Riou (PYF). Wasting no time, Fanning locked in two 8-plus-point rides in the opening minutes to post a 17.60 out of a possible 20 heat total. Despite a late push from Riou, which included an incredible 9.80 on his forehand, Fanning would ultimately hold on for the win and keep his 2012 ASP World Title campaign going in Tahiti.
"While I may be ahead on the ratings' sheet, I think we're all pretty close at the top," Fanning said. "In past, I've made pretty strong runs in the back half of the season and I'm currently in the lead at the midway point. It's so early though that you do yourself a favor by not thinking about it. We're all really close at the top end of the ratings and there's a lot of opportunity to rise and fall before the year's out."
The afternoon was not without upset, however, as two-time Trials winner Ricardo dos Santos (BRA) eliminated current ASP WCT No. 8 Jordy Smith (ZAF), 24, from Billabong Pro Tahiti competition in the final heat of the day.
Event organizers will reconvene tomorrow morning at 7am to assess conditions for a possible 7:30am start.
Forecasters for the Billabong Pro Tahiti are calling for longer period SW swell to ease tomorrow with mostly 5' faces (head high) and occasional sets running up to 6'+ and even a touch bigger in the morning. Local south windswell easing and local wind direction improving so surf gradually cleaning up.
When competition resumes, up first will be Julian Wilson (AUS), 23, and Willian Cardoso (BRA), 26, in the Heat 3 of Round 2.
BILLABONG PRO TAHITI ROUND 1 RESULTS:
Heat 1: John John Florence (HAW) 17.34, Miguel Pupo (BRA) 13.50, Patrick Gudauskas (USA) 10.50
Heat 2: Taj Burrow (AUS) 11.77, Damien Hobgood (USA) 11.23, Dusty Payne (HAW) 7.00
Heat 3: Taylor Knox (USA) 11.83, Mick Fanning (AUS) 8.87, Brett Simpson (USA) 5.50
Heat 4: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 19.43, Willian Cardoso (BRA) 10.60, Bede Durbidge (AUS) 9.13
Heat 5: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 15.50, Ricardo dos Santos (BRA) 11.33, Kai Otton (AUS) 2.83
Heat 6: Kelly Slater (USA) 16.00, Alain Riou (PYF) 8.30, Travis Logie (ZAF) 8.10
Heat 7: Josh Kerr (AUS) 16.23, Jadson Andre (BRA) 13.67, Tiago Pires (PRT) 3.93
Heat 8: Adrian Buchan (AUS) 13.83, Kieren Perrow (AUS) 7.60, Jordy Smith (ZAF) 4.40
Heat 9: Owen Wright (AUS) 13.96, Yadin Nicol (AUS) 10.5 3, Alejo Muniz (BRA) 6.90
Heat 10: Heitor Alves (BRA 9.50), Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 9.46, Julian Wilson (AUS) 2.57
Heat 11: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 15.43, Michel Bourez (PYF) 10.77, Adam Melling (AUS) 3.27
Heat 12: C.J. Hobgood (USA) 16.93, Jeremy Flores (FRA) 13.77, Fredrick Patacchia (HAW) 11.70
BILLABONG PRO TAHITI ROUND 2 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Mick Fanning (AUS) 17.60 def. Alain Riou (PYF) 16.63
Heat 2: Ricardo dos Santos (BRA) 15.37 def. Jordy Smith (ZAF) 9.67
BILLABONG PRO TAHITI REMAINING ROUND 2 MATCH-UPS:
Heat 3: Julian Wilson (AUS) vs. Willian Cardoso (BRA)
Heat 4: Jeremy Flores (FRA) vs. Dusty Payne (HAW)
Heat 5: Michel Bourez (PYF) vs. Patrick Gudauskas (USA)
Heat 6: Alejo Muniz (BRA) vs. Jadson Andre (BRA)
Heat 7: Tiago Pires (PRT) vs. Kieren Perrow (AUS)
Heat 8: Miguel Pupo (BRA) vs. Yadin Nicol (AUS)
Heat 9: Damien Hobgood (USA) vs. Matt Wilkinson (AUS)
Heat 10: Brett Simpson (USA) vs. Adam Melling (AUS)
Heat 11: Bede Durbidge (AUS) vs. Fredrick Patacchia (HAW)
Heat 12: Kai Otton (AUS) vs. Travis Logie (ZAF)