Kelly Slater claimed his 47th elite World Tour victory today at the Billabong Pro Tahiti, but it was an expression session dedicated to the late Andy Irons that created the emotion.
To the haunting melody of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's "What a Wonderful World" ringing out across the lagoon, Bruce Irons, with brother Andy's board under arm, was ferried through the flotilla of craft and out into the lineup. In honor of the fallen world champion Billabong granted Bruce Irons and friends a chance to surf during the break between the semifinals and final, and joining Irons was Joel Parkinson, Luke Egan, Koby Abberton and Keala Kennelly. Slater, ready to surf the final, paddled into the lineup late in the expression session and caught a couple of waves too. As Bruce Irons left the line up his last comment to the people watching and surfing was "For my brother, I thank you."
Almost on queue the heavens opened and rain began to fall. It had been sunny all day, but as the "Bruce and Friends" session finished and the horn sounded for the commencement of the final a rain squall let loose. For a good part of the 30-minute final Slater and Owen Wright competed with water pouring down from the sky. And it was still dumping as Slater notched his third Billabong Pro Tahiti win, backing up victories in 2003 and 2005.
On the presentation stage, Slater dedicated his win to Andy Irons. "Andy won last year and it feels really special to win this year knowing that."
Slater teared up before adding, "The last heat I had against Andy was out here in the semifinal last year, so I'm really stoked and really honored to win."
You don't win 10 world titles by not getting the job done when you need to, and while Slater never seemed to be in any real rhythm today he kept making heats. In the final he surfed an extermely tactical heat. When he had priority he moved out the back and sat around Wright, chasing the set waves. And without priority he prowled the inside lineup, at times sitting more than 30-40 yards away from his opponent.
"I think with priority you have to wait for the good ones and without priority you have to sneak the ones that people don't realize that are really good," he explained. "I was just trying to play it right and not let too many good waves get past me. Owen passed up a lot of good waves in that heat that he didn't realize were good ones. There were a few waves that he could have gotten nines on, those little inside four footers; those little south ones that ran along the reef were much better than he thought. You have to watch the waves and know the tides. He'll learn, but he missed a few opportunities out there today."
For Wright, surfing in his first World Tour final, it seemed he was just happy to be there and he was buzzing with all the excitement that goes with being on stage.
"I'm stoked man to finally make a final, especially at Teahupoo," he said after things had settled down a little. "It's just one of those places that's an incredible place to surf. Just to have heats out there, that final, it didn't really matter which ever way it went, of course you obviously want to win but man we got 9s, we got 8s, we had a great time it was just awesome."
Four days ago Wright had been nervous about the swell predictions for the weekend, and on the big tow-in day he sat in the channel for most of the day just watching. "That tow day spun me out, I was the most nervous I have ever been," he said. "I was sitting with Dean Bowen and I was asking, 'Do you reckon I could do it?' and he went, 'Don't do it. You're still in the main event' and I went, 'Yeah alright.' I could use that as an excuse because a lot of me really didn't want to do it, but looking at those barrels and not giving it a go was pretty tough."
With his win today Slater has leapfrogged up the ratings, sliding 500 points clear of Jordy Smith, who sits in second. Joel Parkinson slipped back to third, with Adriano de Souza in fourth and Wright moving into fifth place. Slater's fellow competitors don't want him in the number one spot on the ratings because they know once he gets a sniff of a world title he is a hard man to budge. There are still six events to go on this year's schedule, but now Slater is the only one with two tour victories, which is an ominous sign to the other title contenders.
BILLABONG PRO TAHITI FINAL RESULTS:
1. Kelly Slater (USA) 18.43
2. Owen Wright (AUS) 17.10
BILLABONG PRO TAHITI SEMIFINAL RESULTS:
SF 1: Kelly Slater (USA) 14.50 def. Josh Kerr (AUS) 10.60
SF 2: Owen Wright (AUS) 19.50 def. Travis Logie (ZAF) 14.40
BILLABONG PRO TAHITI QUARTERFINAL RESULTS:
QF 1: Josh Kerr (AUS) 11.94 def. Jeremy Flores (FRA) 11.83
QF 2: Kelly Slater (USA) 17.50 def. Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 6.17
QF 3: Travis Logie (ZAF) 18.07 def. Brett Simpson (USA) 17.14
QF 4: Owen Wright (AUS) 16.74 def. Raoni Monteiro (BRA) 13.10
ASP WORLD TITLE RANKINGS TOP 5 (After Billabong Pro Tahiti)
1. Kelly Slater (USA) 26,950 pts
2. Jordy Smith (ZAF) 26,500 pts
3. Joel Parkinson (AUS) 26,200 pts
4. Adriano de Souza (BRA) 22,750 pts
5. Owen Wright (AUS) 21,900 pts