Let's Go Teahupo'o
Day 1 in the South Pacific ain't so bad!
The two-metre waves were nothing like the death-defying stuff of last year's infamous "Code Red" day of days, but Slater, a three-time winner at Teahupo'o, adapted immediately. The reigning 11-times ASP World Champion and defending event champion fought his way through some critical Tahitian tubes and even fought off his own surfboard after it hit him in the face during a wipeout.
Despite his characteristically late start, Slater had his competitors, South African Travis Logie and local wildcard Alain Riou (PYF), on the ropes by the seven-minute mark. His two best waves of 7.5 and 8.5 points saw Slater advance well clear of Logie and Riou leaving the pair to fight it out in Round 2.
"I actually caught the last plane I could have caught to make my heat and I barely made it this morning," Slater said.
"It's not often that the waves in California are better than Tahiti, but there hasn't been a whole lot of surf here and we've had pretty good waves at home. It doesn't look like there's a lot forecast for this year which is a shame, but there's still fun surf to be had. It's Teahupo'o and you can sometimes take for granted how beautiful the waves are here."
With nearly two decades of experience at Teahupo'o, Slater is clearly one of the heavy favourites to take out the event again.
Adriano De Souza ASP/Robertson
The day's single best heat performance, however, belong to rampaging Brazilian, Adriano de Souza (BRA). The pint-sized terrier enters the Billabong Pro sitting at number four on the world ratings and against fellow Brazilian Willian Cardoso (BRA) and Aussie Bede Durbidge (AUS), de Souza bulldogged his way to an impressive two-wave total of 19.43 points out of a possible perfect 20.
De Souza's best single ride scored a 9.83 from the judges, the 25 year-old emerging from way behind the foamball, and then clutching his own, erm, boardshorts as a kind of defiant victory claim for everyone watching at home and in the channel.
"I'm so happy right now," De Souza said. "Last year was really big and today is only four feet, but still very fun. I just had fun and caught the good barrels and the judges liked it. I'm having a good year. Every year, I focus on what I need to improve on and go out and work on it. I feel more confident at every spot, I feel strong and have good boards right now," he added.
John John Florence ASP/Robertson
Hawaiian rookie John John Florence (Oahu, HAW) did not disappoint, his highly anticipated Tahiti debut seemed a formality as the 19-year old went to work against Brazilian whiz kid, Miguel Pupo (BRA) and American good-guy, Pat Gudauskas (USA).
Florence is a renowned Pipeline specialist and his performance in big Fijian surf at event four was further proof of his incredible backside attack. Today Florence toyed with fun sized-Teahupo'o, easily advancing to Round 3 with another of the day's highest heat totals, 17.34 points. Florence forced Pupo and Gudauskas into Round 2, the pair scoring 13.50 points and 10.50 points respectively.
"We're here in Tahiti and I'm loving it. I was trying to find a cleaner, open waves and do whatever I could with them," Florence said. "I had one where I did a bunch of turns and ended up on the reef and had another where I got a little barrel. It's actually scary at this size and in these conditions on your backhand because the barrels really chandelier and you can end up on the reef really quick. Pumped to get through though."
Another Hawaiian, Dusty Payne (HAW), also made a debut of sorts in Tahiti. It has been a testing 12 months for the 23 year-old; he was forced from the elite level a year ago due to injury. Payne damaged his knee during practice at last year's Billabong Pro then hurt his ankle surfing in Santa Cruz in October.
The best waves may have not come Payne's way in what was a low scoring affair versus in-form Aussie Taj Burrow (WA, AUS) and American Damien Hobgood (Fl, USA), but Payne showed he is now mentally and physically fit.
Joel Parkinson ASP/Robertson
World rated number three, Joel Parkinson (Qld, AUS), was just one of a number of Aussies to advance to Round 3 with wins today, including Mick Fanning (Gold Coast, AUS), Josh Kerr (Gold Coast, AUS), Adrian "Ace" Buchan (NSW, AUS) and Owen Wright (NSW, AUS).
Parkinson, a perennial would title contender, arrived into Teahupo'o in the greatest shape of his life, having recently completed the gruelling 32 mile annual Molokai to Oahu paddle-board race in Hawaii.
The afternoon was not without upset as two-time Trials winner Ricardo dos Santos (BRA) eliminated current ASP WCT No. 8 Jordy Smith (ZAF), 24, from Billabong Pro Tahiti competition in the final heat of the day.
Event organizers will reconvene tomorrow morning at 7am to assess conditions for a possible 7:30am start.
Surfline, official forecasters for the Billabong Pro Tahiti are calling for longer period SW swell to ease tomorrow with mostly 5' faces (head high) and occasional sets running up to 6'+ and even a touch bigger in the morning. Local south windswell easing and local wind direction improving so surf gradually cleaning up.
When competition resumes, up first will be Julian Wilson (AUS), 23, and Willian Cardoso (BRA), 26, in Heat 3 of Round 2.
Adrian Buchan (AUS) in great form advances in first place during round one.