You had to go to the end of the road in Tahiti if you wanted to see the best show in the history of the ASP World Tour. That may sound a tad dramatic, but on Monday, Teahupoo, located at the southern end of Tahiti, delivered flawless 10- to 15-foot surf for the final day of the Billabong Pro Tahiti, and it was current ratings leader Gabriel Medina and 11-time world champion Kelly Slater who saved the best for last.
Medina was able to stop the rampaging Slater, winning the third contest of his 2014 campaign by a mere three hundredths of a point -- 18.96 to 18.93 (out of a possible 20).
"I don't really know what to say," Medina said after the final results were announced. "[Between the semifinal and final] I talked to my mom and she said no one is bigger than God. And I trusted in Him. I feel very blessed. The waves were big and perfect. This feeling is amazing."
As in almost every other heat he surfed at the Billabong Pro Tahiti, Medina came out of the gates quickly, locking in two high-scoring waves within the first 10 minutes. Slater seemed a bit out of rhythm, and by the end of the heat, after trading blows, Slater still needed a 9.33. With virtually no time on the clock, a wave came. Medina opted not to paddle for it, so Slater swung and held on.
"I can't believe he gave me that wave," Slater said from the channel while the judging panel ran their tabulations.
He came up just short, earning a 9.30 for the effort. For Slater, it was a bittersweet defeat. It was his first final of the year, and he had his chances with one wave in particular that would have been a 10-point ride had he found the exit door.
"This is a dream day, it's one of the best days of my life competitively. The ocean delivered for us today . . . this whole week," Slater said. After his second-place finish in Tahiti, he moves up to second in the title race behind an in-control Medina.
But if the final was tight, the second semifinal was surfed to a draw as Slater and John John Florence opened their duel with fireworks. In the opening minutes of the 35-minute heat, Florence locked in a 9.9, but by the time he was kicking out in the channel, all he could do was watch as Slater slid by in a tube, earning his second 10-point ride of the contest. By heat's end, they were both sitting on near perfect 19.77 heat scores, forcing the judges to go back and name Slater the winner because he had the highest scoring wave (the 10) in the heat.
"I don't really know how I feel but that whole heat and everything that happened was crazy," Florence said. "I'm so, so stoked. My first ride was so good, it was insane. It was so glassy and nice out there."
Although he lost to Slater in the quarters, Owen Wright, who is still finding his feet after a tough back injury last year, stepped up and charged some of the best waves of the contest. For both his effort and inspiration, Wright was awarded the Andy Irons Most Committed Performance Award, which in the past several years has come to mean nearly as much as winning the event itself.
"This feels amazing and I'm so honored to get this award," Owen said.
Hyperbole and clichés come easy around the ASP World Tour, but the sentiment shared by those who witnessed the surf and the performances is that the 2014 Billabong Pro Tahiti will go down in the books as some of the best surf in the world tour's 30-plus year history.
"I don't know how it could have gotten any better," Medina said.
Four events remain on the ASP schedule and Medina has a solid hold on the lead for the title. But while Slater lacks an event win this year, he has been consistent and remains in the hunt. Next is the Hurley Pro at Lower Trestles in Southern California, the break where Slater first made his name in the early '90s and where he has won the most throughout his career. After that come stops in France, Portugal and Hawaii. There's still a lot of surfing left to be done, but it's going to take a lot to top the show just witnessed in Tahiti.