Tahiti Only Gets Tougher: Jeep Leader Battle Intensifies

Paula Lehman

Highlights: Tahiti Delivers
As the Billabong Pro completes Round 4, only two surfers remain in contention to take the Jeep Leader's Yellow Jersey.

Condensed Heat Recaps
Recap: Round 1 (Heats 1-8) | Round 1 (Heats 9-12) and Round 2 | Round 3 (Heats 1-8)
Full Results

Competition was on again at Teahupo'o and the battle for the Tour leader's Yellow Jersey was only more intense. With World No. 1 Adriano de Souza (BRA) and World No. 2 Mick Fanning (AUS) out of the Billabong Pro Tahiti, Julian Wilson (AUS), Filipe Toledo (BRA) and Owen Wright (AUS) were each after the top spot on Tour.

Wilson began the day in the best position to do so. All he needed to do was to defeat C.J. Hobgood (USA) in Round 3. After a restart, two broken boards and almost 25 minutes of inconsequential scores, Wilson finally found his first keeper score of 5.83. But Hobgood found the wave of the day, scoring a 10-pointer for a deep barrel in perfect form. Wilson's opportunity to take the tour lead and and advance in the event were halted by Hobgood's heroics.

Tahitian Perfection
The former World Champ shocked fans and himself by making it out of this throaty barrel.

"I was bracing for the lip to take off my head on that last wave but then I saw the light and made it out," Hobgood said of his perfect score. "I was baffled. I didn't care if I lost because I would have gone out with a 10 on my last wave at Teahupo'o."

The two remaining contenders for the yellow jersey -- Toledo and Wright -- met in the opening heat of Round 4 (a non-elimination round). In the early stages, both surfers trailed Australian journeyman Kai Otton. But with 10 minutes to go, set waves rolled through the channel and evened the playing field. Wright, who proved deadly on lefthand barrels when he scored two perfect heats at Cloudbreak earlier this season, continued to find success once the swell provided a bit more headroom. He earned an 8.17 for a clean barrel ride late in the heat, enough for him to advance directly to the Quarterfinals.

Yellow-Jersey Chasers Face Off
Filipe Toledo, Kai Otton and Owen Wright battle in the opening Round 4 heat cutdown at the Billabong Pro Tahiti.

"It's so shallow and every time you take off you can just see the reef," Wright said after his heat. "It's pretty crucial to make those waves now and that really played into that heat."

In terms of the coveted top spot, De Souza can breathe easy until the Semifinals. While Wilson needed only advance out of Round 3 to steal the yellow jersey, the remaining Jeep Leader contenders have a long road ahead: Toledo needs to make the Semis and Wright needs to make the Final.

NOTABLE: Large sets rolled through the lineup early in the day and Jeremy Flores (FRA) took full advantage for an outstanding performance. Flores, competing with a helmet as a precautionary measure (read about his injury in Indo, here), took control of his Round 3 heat immediately, air-dropping into a big set wave for a 9.10 and an early lead over fellow Pipe Masters champion Joel Parkinson (AUS). The Frenchman, who had a perfect heat at Teahupo'o in 2011, backed up his opening strike with another ride in the nine-point range, this time taking a high line right under the heavy lip.

Fearless Flores
Jeremy Flores sneaks under the lip and escapes with the spit for a 9.77.

"I'm still feeling a bit sketchy with my head injury and every time I fall it's the first thing I think about," Flores said. "It's hard because I'm definitely scared but I just have to find the right balance. On my best day I feel like I can beat anyone but every single surfer on this Tour is so so good. I'm hoping and I'm training hard and if I can win an event then I'm sure I can win another one."

Reigning World Champion Gabriel Medina (BRA) was also back in form. After a rough start to the year, being at Teahupo'o, where he won last year, seems to have rejuvenated him. The young Brazilian put on another big performance in Round 4 when he locked in a 9.97.

Medina's Sweet Escape
Gabriel Medina races down a tube and gets a 9.97 for his effort in Round 4.

Tune in to Finals Day at 7:30 a.m. local time and watch the big finish LIVE here and on the WSL app.