It's no secret that wildcards at Teahupoo can be dangerous. They can turn a heat in a heartbeat. In just three heats, Taj Burrow, Nat Young and Adriando De Souza, ranked fifth, sixth and seventh in the world, respectfully, found themselves prematurely ejected from the Billabong Tahiti Pro on Thursday.
With minimal swell on the horizon, the sixth stop of the ASP World Tour got underway on the first day of the waiting period, powered through all of Round 1 and four heats of Round 2 -- Burrow, Young and De Souza were the end-of-the-day casualties. Burrow couldn't get anything going against Maui's Ian Walsh, who got into the event thanks to an injury wildcard. Young lost to Anthony Walsh (not related), who is going to be a thorn in every competitor's paw. Kelly Slater snuck by Walsh in Round 1, but only because of a last-second turn and burn by Slater. And as twilight came to this tiny corner of Tahiti, De Souza allowed himself to get flustered by both the judges' scores and trials winner Alain Riou. Needless to say, this changes the world title race dramatically.
In terms of the title race, world No. 1 Mick Fanning (who lost to wildcard and former Teahupoo-winner Freddy Pattachia in Round 1) survived his Round 2 pairing with Tahitian Jocelyn Poulou. And as noted, Slater narrowly advanced out of the first round, but did live to surf another day.
"I was kind of lucky that [last wave] came in the end," said Slater when it was over. "I blew the best wave of the heat and lost my fins. I had the line I wanted and just lost my fins on the foam-ball and was too far behind to catch up."
Somehow Joel Parkinson survived his Round 1 heat in which Kolohe Andino opened up with a nine-point ride, which was promptly overshadowed by Anthony Walsh's perfect 10. With is back against the wall, Parko still kept swinging, and somehow made it through.
"I thought it was going to be a battle," said Parkinson from the media boat afterwards. "I didn't think my two eights were going to be enough and then it slowed down. The swell isn't completely here yet and there will be a quick flurry and then the waves will slow down.
Then there's Jordy Smith, who has made it a tradition of flaring out of the Billabong Pro early. Dedicating himself to mastering the South Pacific this year, the big South African is proving to be much improved in the left-hand reef passes. He made short work of Riou and Travis Logie.
"I've always had one good wave in a heat and always come up against wildcards and that's a tough thing out here," said Smith. "I think I've chosen the wrong waves in the past as well. I really want to do well, especially in the Pacific leg. I'm taking my time and watching the best guys out here."
If Smith is spending time watching the best guys out there, he needs to pay special attention to John John Florence and the incredible Hobgood brothers. While none of them are in the world title race, all three are hungry for a result and extremely dangerous at Teahupoo. In his typical, nonchalant style, when he was done Florence smiled, "Tahiti is always fun and always beautiful. I'm happy to be here."
The way things are setting up, by the end of the weekend we could be looking at crowning a champ. Small swell is expected Friday followed by another short south-southwest swell on its heels arriving Sunday and Monday, according to Surfline.
BILLABONG PRO TAHITI ROUND 1 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Bede Durbidge (AUS) 10.67, Patrick Gudauskas (USA) 10.63, Nat Young (USA) 3.13
Heat 2: Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 15.07, Taj Burrow (AUS) 13.80, Nathan Hedge (AUS) 10.00
Heat 3: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 14.93, Alain Riou (PYF) 11.33, Travis Logie (ZAF) 6.57
Heat 4: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 16.06, Kolohe Andino (USA) 15.17, Anthony Walsh (AUS) 14.83
Heat 5: Kelly Slater (USA) 14.00, Ian Walsh (HAW) 13.83, Brett Simpson (USA) 9.43
Heat 6: Fredrick Patacchia (HAW) 15.77, Mick Fanning (AUS) 10.60, Jocelyn Poulou (PYF) 8.80
Heat 7: Kieren Perrow (AUS) 16.60, Adrian Buchan (AUS) 10.60, Adriano de Souza (BRA) 10.00
Heat 8: Yadin Nicol (AUS) 14.07, Michel Bourez (PYF) 13.13, Kai Otton (AUS) 12.67
Heat 9: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 12.16, Alejo Muniz (BRA) 11.87, Josh Kerr (AUS) 11.37
Heat 10: C.J. Hobgood (USA) 13.50, Jeremy Flores (FRA) 13.27, Adam Melling (AUS) 11.10
Heat 11: John John Florence (HAW) 16.57, Julian Wilson (AUS) 11.17, Miguel Pupo (BRA) 2.17
Heat 12: Damien Hobgood (USA) 13.16, Filipe Toledo (BRA) 6.93, Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 2.60
BILLABONG PRO TAHITI ROUND 2 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Mick Fanning (AUS) 16.37 def. Jocelyn Poulou (PYF) 10.50
Heat 2: Ian Walsh (HAW) 12.40 def. Taj Burrow (AUS) 8.00
Heat 3: Anthony Walsh (AUS) 15.43 def. Nat Young (USA) 13.10
Heat 4: Alain Riou (PYF) 12.03 def. Adriano de Souza (BRA) 11.77
BILLABONG PRO TAHITI REMAINING ROUND 2 MATCH-UPS:
Heat 5: Michel Bourez (PYF) vs. Nathan Hedge (AUS)
Heat 6: Josh Kerr (AUS) vs. Patrick Guduaskas (USA)
Heat 7: Julian Wilson (AUS) vs. Alejo Muniz (BRA)
HEAT 8: Sebastian Zietz (HAW) vs. Adam Melling (AUS)
HEAT 9: Filipe Toledo (BRA) vs. Miguel Pupo (BRA)
HEAT 10: Jeremy Flores (FRA) vs. Brett Simpson (USA)
HEAT 11: Kai Otton (AUS) vs. Kolohe Andino (USA)
HEAT 12: Adrian Buchan (AUS) vs. Travis Logie (ZAF)