Even with stormy weather and less-than-ideal conditions, Teahupo'o was a wave of consequence Sunday at the Billabong Pro Tahiti. Those who went for broke and came out unscathed won the approval of the judges and advanced directly to Round 3, skipping Round 2's sudden-death matchups.
Courage and experience saw C.J. Hobgood (USA) force the first upset of the competition, during the high-pressure Round 2. Lagging behind World No. 7 Nat Young (USA), Hobgood air-dropped into a heavy set wave, riding the foamball through a long, hollow section for a 9.80.
"I was just stoked that I got a couple of opportunities," said Hobgood. Prior to the Billabong Pro, his only heat win of the season so far was in Round 1 at J-Bay. "When someone asks me what I'm going to miss about the tour it's that -- the man-on-man combat."
Josh Kerr (AUS) emerged from his heat with shredded fins, showing that big risk comes with big reward at Teahupo'o. He earned the first score of the event in the nine-point range, a 9.67 for pulling to a tube with two sections and escaping at the last second, exiting on the dry reef.
"That one wave was pretty crazy and I pulled up into dry reef," said Kerr. "I would never have stayed on that wave in a freesurf. I just wanted to make sure I got the score -- but I might need a new set of fins."
Proven Teahupo'o conquerers John John Florence (HAW) and Gabriel Medina (BRA) handled their heats with ease, looking as in-form as they were in 2014 when they finished third and first, respectively. Florence, who missed the last two Championship Tour (CT) events with because of a sprained ankle, made his return to competition count when he air-dropped into one of the bigger set waves of Round 1 without hesitation. The performance earned him a 9.07 and he followed it up with an 8.93 on his next ride.
For his part, Medina was fired up in his Round 2 heat, displaying the kind of competitive prowess and serious rhythm that he became known for last year. He in earned a 9.17 and backed it up with an 8.50 to sail to a win over rookie Ricardo Christie (NZL).
"I was so excited to get the jersey back on," said Florence. "When I first got hurt I was super bummed out but at the same time I thought it would be good to take a break. When Fiji came around I couldn't bear to watch it because I was so bummed out. My ankle feels so good and I really took my time letting it heal."
Watch LIVE on worldsurfleague.com and the WSL app as as the field continues to narrow and the battled in Tahiti get only more intense. The event waiting period runs through August 25.