TEAHUPOO, Tahiti (Monday, May 18, 2009, Tuesday in Australia) – Following four consecutive lay days, the Billabong Pro Tahiti presented by Air Tahiti Nui roared back to life this morning, with the world’s best surfers tackling the three-to-four foot (1 – 1.5 metre) waves on offer at Teahupoo.
Stop No. 3 of 10 on the 2009 ASP World Tour, the Billabong Pro Tahiti saw perennial favorites C.J. Hobgood (USA), 29, Taj Burrow (AUS), 30, and Michael Campbell (AUS), 35, advance through to the Quarterfinals alongside Taylor Knox (USA), 38, current ASP World No. 14 and longest-serving competitor on the ASP Dream Tour, who eliminated current ASP World No. 1 Joel Parkinson (AUS), 28, from competition this afternoon with a staggering 9.03 out of a possible 10 single-wave score in the final heat of the day.
“It was one of those heats where we were jockeying for position in the beginning,” Knox said. “I got a 6 and then it went flat. Joel (Parkinson) was tired of waiting and used his priority on a wave that didn’t offer much. Then that really good one came through and I was in position for it. I really thought there were going to be more waves in that heat and that I’d need more than a 6 in my score line, but that’s the way it worked out. I won my heat so I’m stoked and will go home happy now.”
While this afternoon’s four Round 3 heats laid the groundwork for some intense Quarterfinal match-ups, it was this morning’s completion of Round 2 that provided some of the day’s most dramatic upsets and exciting action.
Aritz Aranburu (EUK), 23, current ASP World No. 39, caused the upset of the event, eliminating reigning nine-time ASP World Champion Kelly Slater (USA), 37, in Round 2 of the Billabong Pro Tahiti. For Aranburu, it would mark his first heat win of the 2009 ASP World Tour season; the young Basque surfer putting up an impressive 17.27 heat total to Slater’s 15.00.
“Kelly (Slater) is the best competitor and the best surfer in the world and I was just trying to stay focused out there so I could get my own waves,” Aranburu said. “Once I got that first score I almost felt more pressure because I was surfing against Kelly and I know what he can do with his priority. I just tried to put the pressure off and luckily I got a second good score and it worked out.”
The win was no easy feat as the pair locked in the highest-scoring heat of the event, but Aranburu’s near-perfect 9.77 out of a possible 10, for an extremely deep backhand barrel in the opening minutes of the bout, assisted the European in his landmark victory.
“I was lucky to get that first wave,” Aranburu said. “I paddled deep because I knew I was going to need a big score against Kelly (Slater) and when I was paddling into it, I thought I was going to fall, but I made it, so I’m happy.”
Aranburu will now face current ASP World No. 9 Damien Hobgood (USA), 29, in Round 3 of the Billabong Pro Tahiti when competition resumes.
For Slater, today’s disappointing result marks his third, consecutive equal 17th place finish in 2009, leaving many to ponder the iconic Floridian’s state of mind in regards to his campaign for an unprecedented 10th ASP World Title.
“That may have just given me an excuse for a big, long vacation,” Slater said. “I don’t know yet. It’s really decision time for me. With that many 17ths, you’re really hard-pressed to win an ASP World Title. I’m not here to just make up the numbers, but I don’t want to fall off the map either – I guess I kind of have though. Numbers-wise, I’m still within the possibility of getting in late in the year, but I don’t know. I guess I have a lot on my mind.”
Slater has yet to confirm if he will attend Stop No. 4 of 10 on the 2009 ASP World Tour, the Hang Loose Santa Catarina Pro in Brazil, from June 27 to July 5, 2009.
While Aranburu’s historic win provided the highlight for the day, Round 2 had plenty of dramatic action to offer.
Mick Fanning (AUS), 27, former ASP World Champion (2007) and current ASP World No. 2, pulled out a buzzer-beating heat win during his Round 2 bout with compatriot Ben Dunn (AUS), 23. Requiring an above-average score with time running out, Fanning got to his feet just prior to the heat-ending horn and proceeded to pig-dog his way to an excellent 9.17 out of a possible 10 to secure an exciting, come-from-behind victory.
“It’s pretty hard out there,” Fanning said. “We were fighting for 3’s until the end. I tried to get a few little ones at the beginning and tried to find the barrel – there just weren’t many out there. I was just praying one would come up, and one did and you just have to surf and hold on. I heard the ‘five’ on the countdown paddling in and I just hung on and got through.”
Fanning will face fellow Australian Tom Whitaker, 29, in Round 3 when the Billabong Pro Tahiti recommences.
Jordy Smith (ZAF), 21, current ASP World No. 3, suffered an injury during the morning’s warm-up session when he landed on his hindquarters on the reef, but that didn’t stop the prodigious South African from posting the day’s second highest heat total (a 16.33 out of a possible 20) en route to his Round 2 victory over Heitor Alves (BRA), 27.
“I took a fall earlier while warming up and luckily it wasn’t anything serious,” Smith said. “It wasn’t affecting me in my heat luckily, but I saw that Heitor (Alves) got off to a good start and I didn’t watch it too much before I went out. I didn’t think there were many barrels out there, but I was able to find one. It’s tough out there. It’s not an epic day, but there are good waves and Luke (Egan) is doing a great job with the calls.”
Andy Irons (HAW), 30, former three-time ASP World Champion and past winner of the Billabong Pro Tahiti (2002), is currently on sabbatical from full-time competition, but accepted a wildcard to compete in the Billabong Pro Tahiti. The Hawaiian continued his sensational roll through Round 2 today, displaying his characteristic, preternatural backhand tube sense en route to victory.
“Competing again is a bit like riding a bike, but it’s a little scary,” Irons said. “I’m a little rusty, putting the jersey back on and getting a feel for things. If we had waves like this anywhere else, I’d be stoked, but when you think of Teahupoo, you think of eight-to-10-foot barrels. So it’s different, but there are still fun waves.”
Irons caused a major upset today in the elimination of 2008 ASP World Runner-Up Bede Durbidge (AUS), 26, from Billabong Pro Tahiti competition during Round 2.
“Bede (Durbidge) is a tough draw,” Irons said. “He’s fit and strong and last year’s World No. 2 and he’s no slouch. He’s a cool guy and I have a lot of respect for him. He is having a bit of a bad run at the moment, but I’m sure he’ll turn that around. It’s unfortunate that there was a bit of a lull during that heat, but I was able to get a couple of waves and I’m stoked to get through. Thanks to Billabong for letting me surf in the event.”
Irons will tackle an in-form Bobby Martinez (USA), 26, in Round 3 of the Billabong Pro Tahiti in the opening heat of the day when action resumes.
Surfline, official forecasters for the Billabong Pro Tahiti, are calling for the current short-period SW swell to maintain throughout tomorrow before being replaced by a long-period SW in the coming days.
Event organizers will reconvene at 6:30am tomorrow morning to assess conditions for a possible 7:30am start.
Highlights from today’s Billabong Pro Tahiti presented by Air Tahiti Nui will be available at www.billabongpro.com
For more information, log onto www.aspworldtour.com
REMAINING BILLABONG PRO TAHITI ROUND 2 RESULTS:
Heat 7: Taylor Knox (USA) 11.50 def. Kai Otton (AUS) 10.63
Heat 8: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 13.26 def. Heiarii Williams (PYF) 9.67
Heat 9: Andy Irons (HAW) 13.16 def. Bede Durbidge (AUS) 12.00
Heat 10: Bobby Martinez (USA) 9.17 def. Dayyan Neve (AUS) 7.94
Heat 11: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 11.67 def. Dustin Barca (HAW) 8.80
Heat 12: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 16.33 def. Heitor Alves (BRA) 14.34
Heat 13: Aritz Aranburu (EUK) 17.27 def. Kelly Slater (USA) 15.00
Heat 14: Damien Hobgood (USA) 16.06 def. Dean Morrison (AUS) 9.00
Heat 15: Mick Fanning (AUS) 13.84 def. Ben Dunn (AUS) 11.43
Heat 16: Tom Whitaker (AUS) 14.16 def. Tim Boal (FRA) 4.50
BILLABONG PRO TAHITI ROUND 3 RESULTS:
Heat 1: C.J. Hobgood (USA) 15.50 def. Jay Thompson (AUS) 6.17
Heat 2: Taj Burrow (AUS) 12.04 def. Kieren Perrow (AUS) 9.40
Heat 3: Mick Campbell (AUS) 15.07 def. Josh Kerr (AUS) 8.50
Heat 4: Taylor Knox (USA) 15.46 def. Joel Parkinson (AUS) 5.57
REMAINING BILLABONG PRO TAHITI ROUND 3 MATCH-UPS:
Heat 5: Andy Irons (HAW) vs. Bobby Martinez (USA)
Heat 6: Adriano de Souza (BRA) vs. Jordy Smith (ZAF)
Heat 7: Aritz Aranburu (EUK) vs. Damien Hobgood (USA)
Heat 8: Mick Fanning (AUS) vs. Tom Whitaker (AUS)
UPCOMING BILLABONG PRO TAHITI QUARTERFINAL MATCH-UPS:
QF 1: C.J. Hobgood (USA) vs. Taj Burrow (AUS)
QF 2: Mick Campbell (AUS) vs. Taylor Knox (USA)
QF 3: TBA
QF 4: TBA