Billabong Pro Tahiti Preview

Potentially the heaviest leg of the World Tour, the Billabong Pro Tahiti's waiting period peels open from August 15th until the 26th. Leaving only one question: what is the swell going to do? And will we see a repeat of 2011's Code Red or even the terrifying sessions in May of 2013?

Sadly it's not going to look anything like that. The outlook is kinda middle of the road, this is no 2010 when the event came down to the last remaining minutes in the waiting period and Andy Irons won his final event in tiny wind-lashed kegs much to the delight of the local Polynesians. The forecast for 2013 looks nice and friendly, more dependable neighbour than raging psychopath, albeit with a bit too much west. Generally you'd look for something around the sub 200 degree mark for open spinning barrels and the swell for the opening day is 30 degrees west of that benchmark.

Looking further into the long range forecast the outlook is considerably more uncertain with incoming swells mixing up with periods of stronger winds. Faced with the choice of holding out for something to solidify in the forecast, or decent swell and relatively benign and stable weather at the start we'd expect to see the event kicking-off early.

The all important heat draw:

Heat 1: Nat Young (USA), Bede Durbidge (AUS), Patrick Gudauskas (USA)
Heat 2: Taj Burrow (AUS), Matt Wilkinson (AUS), Nathan Hedge (AUS)
Heat 3: Jordy Smith (ZAF), Travis Logie (ZAF), Alan Riou (PYF)
Heat 4: Joel Parkinson (AUS), Kolohe Andino (USA), Anthony Walsh (AUS)
Heat 5: Kelly Slater (USA), Brett Simpson (USA), Ian Walsh (HAW)
Heat 6: Mick Fanning (AUS), Fredrick Patacchia (HAW), Jocelyn Poulou (PYF)
Heat 7: Adriano de Souza (BRA), Adrian Buchan (AUS), Kieren Perrow (AUS)
Heat 8: Michel Bourez (PYF), Kai Otton (AUS), Yadin Nicol (AUS)
Heat 9: Josh Kerr (AUS), Gabriel Medina (BRA), Alejo Muniz (BRA)
Heat 10: C.J. Hobgood (USA), Jeremy Flores (FRA), Adam Melling (AUS)
Heat 11: Julian Wilson (AUS), John John Florence (HAW), Miguel Pupo (BRA)
Heat 12: Sebastian Zietz (HAW), Filipe Toledo (BRA), Damien Hobgood (USA)

What does the perfect Tahiti forecast look like?

In order to perform the transformation from steadfast friendly barrel, to full-on steroid abuser, this reef needs swell and lots of it. Without this lifeblood it's just a bunch of bros fishing in the tropics, living clustered upon a small headland behind the reef under the shade of widely spaced palms. The same teams rent the same houses each year, with a Tahitian family likely to be providing hospitality and sustenance from the ocean at the bottom of the garden. It’s all part of a well rehearsed dance correlated to the rise and fall of the South Pacific.

The optimal conditions for the Teahupoo occur during the Southern Hemisphere winter and during these months we can expect an almost continuous succession of high latitude storms moving towards South America. Given Tahiti’s location and Teahupoo’s reef orientation, the optimal swell direction is from the SSW which means the storm path must be more northerly oriented than the typical west to east movement.

"We have two possible scenarios for the perfect Teahupoo storm" Says MSW Forecaster Francisco "The first comes from a storm close to New Zealand which will pump waves directly towards Teahupoo. The second scenario involves a blocking high pressure system covering the area east of New Zealand and requires a much more intense storm close to Antarctica due to the distance the swell has to travel. Looking at the current situation you can see that blocking area of high pressure, but sadly without a huge storm."

A comparison between the wind fields of the Code Red storm in 2011 (left)  and the recent huge swell of 2013.

A comparison between the wind fields of the Code Red storm in 2011 (left) and the recent huge swell of 2013.

Here are two wind fields which illustrate the two scenarios described above. To the left we have the Code Red storm of 2009 and the Blood in the Water swell of 2013 to the right. The difference in intensity and area is mind-blowing but the outcomes were a lot closer that that huge disparity might suggest.

The crucial fact here is direction, the Code Red storm was massive, it still remains one of the largest and most intense systems we've ever seen. It was however heading west to east in typical fashion, whereas the recent storm (to the right) was located close to New Zealand and directed all of its energy at Teahupoo. Fingers crossed the long range forecast suddenly develops something like this.

Ed Temperley

MSW editor. Instagram @edtemperley