Billabong Pro Tahiti

Ross Williams' Fantasy Take on Teahupo'o

Big or small, Teahupo'o is one of the most demanding waves on Tour. High tide or low, it's shallow, hollow, and unforgiving. When all the elements come together it's one of the most alluring waves on the planet -- a gem of a surf spot. But it's also one of the toughest places to zero in on Fantasy picks. Ross Williams tells us why...

Kelly Slater and John John Florence are too good to ignore at Teahupo'o, no matter the size.

WSL: First off, how is the forecast playing into your picks?
Ross Williams: Well, I'm glad we pushed this interview back a few hours because I was fiddling with my team just now after looking at the forecast. The forecast is a big factor, and this was already a hard one to begin with. There's a lot of play. You can go a lot of different ways in the B and C categories.

And there's no sign of massive surf on the horizon, which opens things up a bit.
Big time. Usually when you're picking for Teahupo'o you're picking guys based on confidence in scary waves and shallow reef. That's often what it's all about. When it gets like that it's really about who wants a piece of it. With a smaller forecast that's basically out the window. It's much more of a surf contest now.

Medina's 2014 win is one people will be talking about for years. He's hoping to repeat the feat in 2016 in order to take command of the title race.

Will the judging shift away from barrels?
Yes and no. The wind at this point looks pretty good, so it should be pretty clean. And when Teahupo'o is clean it's barreling -- even if it's small. But, maneuvers will certainly be helpful. I think there are a lot guys who are comfortable going for that one last air or floater over the reef.

Okay, so let's get into your picks. Who do you have in the A tier?
(Laughs) I have the same guys everyone else is going to have: John John Florence and Gabriel Medina. It's almost impossible not to pick these guys with what we've seen from them lately. They're both the best surfers out there no matter the size, and they're proven winners.

Italo Ferreira gets in a training session in Tahiti. Italo Ferreira could be a sleeper pick in Tier A at Teahupo'o. - WSL / Kelly Cestari

But you're passing on Wilko and Italo?
Yeah, I think it's interesting that Wilko could be a great sneaker pick for this one. He's No. 1 in the world but he's the sleeper. He's still a threat, big time, with his newfound confidence. And I really like Italo too, but I just can't ignore John and Gabe. Their ability to mix it up, and their skills in the tube are too much to ignore.

Understandable. What about Tier B? That seems much tougher.
For sure. This is where I feel like I'm getting a little creative. I've got Kelly, Filipe, Seabass and Adrian Buchan.

Filipe Toledo was able to hold on and make his way through Round 4. According to Williams, Filipe Toledo is somebody who gets overlooked when the waves are perfect, which is why he thinks there's opportunity here. - WSL / Kelly Cestari

I think Filipe is a bit of a sleeper because people equate him with beachbreak and Lowers. If it was big I'd be concerned, because he can be timid in the big stuff, but the fear factor won't be an issue this year. He's also been in Indo the last couple weeks, and I think he gets overlooked in quality waves. So I think there's a lot to gain there.

With Seabass I really just think his style of surfing matches Chopes. The one big concern there is he can be pretty inconsistent. We all know he can be fidgety, but he's been working a lot with Tommy Whitaker and he's been a lot more calm and collected during heats. And he's a top seed, so if he doesn't win in Round One he'll be a high seed in Round Two.

Sebastian Zietz matches up well with Teahupo'o.

Ace Buchan has won here before, and he did it in similar conditions to what we're expecting, so he's kind of my anchor...And as for Kelly, as weird as this sounds, I don't really like this pick. I mean, I don't think he's going to be inspired by the forecast. He'll probably show up late again, and with a brand new batch of boards. So all the same stuff we've seen from him this year I think he'll do again...but all that said, I just can't let him go (laughs).

But like you said, there's a lot of wiggle room there. Some tough talent to pass on.
For sure. I think the toughest guys for me to pass on in Tier B are Wiggolly Dantas and Caio Ibelli...and Parko is another one. All those guys are great if it's hollow.

Adrian Buchan goes deep in a Tahiti freesurf. Ace Buchan consistently flies under the radar, but has enjoyed some of his best tour finishes in Tahiti. - WSL / Kelly Cestari

And your Tier C picks?

Well I think my picks are pretty predictable here too. I'm going with Jeremy Flores, who I think a lot of guys will have since he won it last year. But Jeremy is just too good to pass on in the tropics. He loves Tahiti. That's his element.

My other pick here is Kai Otton. Maybe he's not so obvious, because he's doing horrible this year. He's ranked No. 37, so he's due for a wave. He did okay last year. He charges. He's certainly got the motivation if he wants to qualify and I think he does well in shallow waves.

Defending Champion Jeremy Flores is a hard one to pass up in Tier C.

Who was tough to pass on here?
I was looking pretty hard at Jack Freestone, but have a tough time seeing his surfing match up out there if it's smaller. He's been pretty spotty this year, too. But I do think Bruno Santos is a huge pick. He's a former winner, and he seems to do well every time he's in the event. As for sleepers in Tier C, I think Jadson Andre is a solid pick. His surfing does fit well.

So have you locked your picks or are you still debating?
I'm never locked until the end (laughs). I'm still debating whether I go with Wiggolly Dantas over Kelly or Filipe, but I think I'm good for now. I'll keep my eyes on the forecast and poke around when I land to see if anyone's nursing an injury. So stay tuned.