After a full day in the water Sunday at Teahupoo, Adrian "Ace" Buchan took out 11-time world champion Kelly Slater in the final of the Billabong Pro Tahiti. En route to victory Buchan had to outsurf three out of the four world title contenders and a red-hot John John Florence, making this unequivocally the biggest win of his career.
"I knew I had to step it up today," Buchan said afterward. "Had to plow through some big names today. Every time I paddled out, I told myself that I only had to catch two waves. That was my mantra through each heat and it worked out well for me."
For Slater's part in it all he walks away with perhaps a disappointing runner-up result (in five finals it's the only one he's lost), but the consolation prize of taking the top spot in the hunt for the 2013 ASP world title did provide some redemption.
"Took a few poundings out there today for sure," Slater said. "Felt like I dislocated my shoulder at one point, but it feels OK now. The waves were really fun today and Ace just happened to get those two gems at the start of the heat. Those two were the ones and I would have preferred a win, but Ace has been in really good form all day and he's a deserving winner."
A moment in the waning minutes of the final that did provide a bit of controversy, but it ultimately proved inconsequential. Buchan and Slater paddled for a wave, but Buchan held priority and forced Slater to pull back. Seeing that Slater wasn't going to go, Buchan then pulled back too. At this point the priority should have switched to Slater, but the judges either didn't see it this way or just plain made a bad call and let Buchan maintain priority. Slater appeared frustrated from the water, waving his arms and trying to get clarification on who held priority. It was a call that could have decided the final, but as no other high scoring waves came through, ultimately it was a moot point.
As far as world tour events go, the Billabong Pro Tahiti was a brief affair, finishing in the first four days of the two-week waiting period. And for some the contest proved to be an opportunity to break out and shuffle up the ratings. Coming in ranked 17th in the world, Kai Otton is perhaps the most notable, as he surfed all the way into the semifinals and jumped up to 13th as a result.
"I think I can confidently say that this result sets me up pretty well for requalification for next year," Otton said. "I obviously wanted to beat Kelly there, but sometimes things don't go your way. Still happy with the result though."
Julian Wilson also proved that he's much more than a mere aerialist. Making it all the way to the quarterfinals and beating CJ Hobgood in Round 5 in a highly competitive battle, this is the best Wilson has done in Tahiti and should serve as a huge confidence booster as he heads into the back half of the season.
Of course, the conversation wouldn't be complete without a nod to Florence, who took home the Andy Irons Most Committed Award. The 20-year-old Hawaiian appeared absolutely unbeatable during the entire event, showing incredible mastery of backside tube riding over the shallow Teahupoo reef. He started his quarterfinal heat against Buchan with a perfect 10, which probably should have been scored closer to a 15. It's not uncommon for people to lose heats even with a perfect 10 in their scoreline, and Florence felt that sting as Buchan, true to form, found two high scoring rides to move on.
"I'm very honored to be awarded the AI Most Committed Award," said Florence upon receiving the award. "He was a mentor to me and all my friends growing up. We all miss AI. We all still look up to him and what he did in the water. I obviously wanted to do better in the event, but if I couldn't make it any further, this award is pretty much the most special one I could win."
And like that the world title race moves to Southern California for the Hurley Pro at Lower Trestles. It's a location that Slater has dominated for the past 20 years, but as we've seen, anything can happen. Mick Fanning is only 1,000 points behind him in the ratings, while Joel Parkinson and Jordy Smith have considerably more ground to catch up, especially when you consider that everybody's worst two events haven't been dropped yet. Four events are left on the ASP World Tour schedule and all of them are going to be factors in the final standings.
"Trestles, Europe and Pipe is a pretty strong leg for me historically," said Slater, looking ahead at the rest of the year's schedule. "It's pretty close at the top right now so it will be an interesting finish to the season."
BILLABONG PRO TAHITI FINAL RESULTS:
1. Adrian Buchan (AUS) 18.94
2. Kelly Slater (USA) 17.90
BILLABONG PRO TAHITI SEMIFINAL RESULTS:
SF 1: Adrian Buchan (AUS) 18.67 def. Mick Fanning (AUS) 15.80
SF 2: Kelly Slater (USA) 16.73 def. Kai Otton (AUS) 7.67
BILLABONG PRO TAHITI QUARTERFINAL RESULTS:
QF 1: Mick Fanning (AUS) 12.07 def. Josh Kerr (AUS) 7.06
QF 2: Adrian Buchan (AUS) 19.17 def. John John Florence (HAW) 17.33
QF 3: Kai Otton (AUS) 16.54 def. Julian Wilson (AUS) 13.90
QF 4: Kelly Slater (USA) 16.86 def. Fredrick Patacchia (HAW) 8.66
BILLABONG PRO TAHITI ROUND 5 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Mick Fanning (AUS) 14.20 def. Jeremy Flores (FRA) 13.40
Heat 2: Adrian Buchan (AUS) 14.16 def. Jordy Smith (ZAF) 8.30
Heat 3: Julian Wilson (AUS) 18.00 def. C.J. Hobgood (USA) 17.27
Heat 4: Kelly Slater (USA) 16.74 def. Joel Parkinson (AUS) 13.97
BILLABONG PRO TAHITI ROUND 4 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Josh Kerr (AUS) 16.67, Jeremy Flores (FRA) 16.47, Jordy Smith (ZAF) 8.67
Heat 2: John John Florence (HAW) 18.67, Adrian Buchan (AUS) 17.80, Mick Fanning (AUS) 12.10
Heat 3: Kai Otton (AUS) 18.93, Julian Wilson (AUS) 18.74, Kelly Slater (USA) 14.77
Heat 4: Fredrick Patacchia (HAW) 18.53, Joel Parkinson (AUS) 17.47, C.J. Hobgood (USA) 16.70
BILLABONG PRO TAHITI REMAINING ROUND 3 RESULTS:
Heat 9: Julian Wilson (AUS) 13.34 def. Adam Melling (AUS) 0.73
Heat 10: C.J. Hobgood (USA) 9.60 def. Yadin Nicol (AUS) 7.10
Heat 11: Fredrick Patacchia (HAW) 16.70 def. Gabriel Medina (BRA) 16.16
Heat 12: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 16.33 def. Alain Riou (PYF) 15.76
CURRENT ASP WCT TOP 5 (Following Billabong Pro Tahiti):
1. Kelly Slater (USA) 38,950 pts
2. Mick Fanning (AUS) 37,900 pts
3. Joel Parkinson (AUS) 30,700 pts
4. Jordy Smith (ZAF) 29,200 pts
5. Taj Burrow (AUS) 25,400 pts