It was at exactly 7:40pm Wednesday night when the southeasterly trade winds kicked in at Teahupoo. Dinner was almost done and the surfers staying in the waterfront property of Papa Teava's joked that the wind wasn't supposed to arrive until 8:00pm. 15 hours later the howling 30-40 knot winds that had brought in the storm front, dumping rain and creating havoc, was no joke. The Billabong Pro was unable to run.
"Everyone expected to surf today," said ASP Surfer Representative Kieren Perrow about the decision to call the contest off. "I was ready, everyone got their boards ready last night and everyone was thinking we'd be surfing for sure, but after the storm hit last night it became pretty obvious that there wasn't going to be any good waves."
The surf was expected to come up through the night and it did, sitting somewhere in the six- to eight-foot range today, but combined with the furious winds and driving rain the storm created chaos on both land and sea.
At sunset there were five yachts anchored in the lagoon out front of Papa Teava's, but when the storm hit three were forced to maneuver and re-anchor while a fourth was pushed onto the coral reef. Its owner spent a sleepless night before winching it off this morning. In the yards and on the roads trees were blown down making it difficult to drive, and the temporary village of cafés set up at the end of the road for the contest took a major hit, losing roofs and walls.
"I don't think I have ever been here for a storm that has been that violent and lasted so long," recounted Perrow, who has been coming here since 1999. "It seems like storms usually hit and pass quickly, but this one lasted all night and it was really windy, crazy rain and everything got destroyed."
The locals seemed to take the damage and mess created by the storm in their stride clearing the yards and roads with a minimum of fuss but the surf was another matter.
As Surfer Representative it's Perrow's job to confer with the ASP International Head Judge, Pritamo Ahrendt and Contest Director Chris O'Callahan on decisions to run or not to run the contest on any given day.
"It was pretty ugly this morning," said Perrow. "I checked it from the end of the road early then I went out in a boat around 11:00am just to have a closer look and see what the ocean was doing. Those guys (Pritamo and Chris) had it pretty much under control and made a decision without me -- it was a pretty easy call today because there just wasn't enough good waves."
The nervous energy that was obvious yesterday was defused partly by the overnight storm and the lay-day call, but the surfers are restless. Some are fiddling with their boards, waxing and re-waxing, checking leashes, making sure the fins are tight; others are on the Internet or tweeting back and forth amongst themselves.
The storm just delayed the inevitable. This year's Billabong Pro will score some epic waves in the eight to ten foot range. It will happen, it's just that Mother Nature had a different agenda for today and added to the anticipation.