The Men's Papara Pro Open Tahiti has narrowed down to just four surfers today, all who call Tahiti home, and is three heats away from crowning a new winner at the black sand beach break of Papara. Ariihoe Tefaafana (PYF) will face Keoni Yan (HAW) in the first Semifinal, with Hira Teriinatoofa (PYF) and Jocelyn Poulou (PYF) going head-to-head in the second Semifinal once competition resumes. The World Surf League (WSL) Qualifying Series (QS) 1,000 event runs in conjunction with four other WSL events including the Men and Women's Papara Pro Junior, the Papara Pro Vahine Open and the Tama He‘e Classic Men's Longboard.
The best score of the day, an 8.75, went to Keoni Yan for two huge turns on the last wave of Round Three Heat 2. Yan, born in Honolulu, Hawaii but growing up in Tahiti is striking in all conditions, from the big wave venue of Sunset Beach on Oahu (his current place of residence) to the punchy surf at Papara, he demonstrated his adaptability by advancing three times today into the Semifinal.
"I'm feeling good, but during the day the swell kind of dropped so yeah I just got lucky especially in the morning on my 8.75," said Yan. "Kekoa (Cazimero) got priority but he went right and I had second priority so I went left. I just gave it a shot and the left was just so good."
Yan went on to edge out California surfer Jake Marshall (USA) by less than a point in the second Quarterfinal and lives to surf another day.
"There's a lot of Tahitians left in this contest so it's pretty sick, hopefully a Tahitian wins, or maybe me, a Hawaiian (laughs)." Yan's last victory was in January 2016 at the Sunset Pro on Oahu's North Shore and as a knowledgeable local here at Papara, another podium finish is well within reach.
Credit is also due to Marshall, 18, who had the best showing in Tahiti after finishing third at the Air Tahiti Rangiroa Pro last week and fifth today in the Papara Pro Open Tahiti. The Encinitas, California surfer has traveled a few times this year in search of good results and confidence-building experience and was most recently in Manly for the Australian Open of Surfing. His Quarterfinal matchup with Yan was one of the closest heats of the day, but the light-footed surfer dropped out of the competition after failing to find a solid backup wave to advance.
The first Quarterfinal was a priority battle back and forth between goofy-footers Mihimana Braye (PYF) and Ariihoe Tefaafana (PYF) with both surfers throwing out a score in the excellent range. The two tied in the end with an identical heat total of 15.60, but the win ultimately went to Tefaafana owed to his higher single wave, an 8.50.
"Surfing with Mihi (Braye), he's the guy to beat here, I think he's the best," said Tefaafana. "I feel great. I live just a two-minute walk from here and am surfing here all day and training and yeah, it pays. I am so stoked to make a Semifinal here."
The locals ruled the lineup today as Hira Teriinatoofa (PYF) advanced into the Semifinals after knocking out Mateia Hiquily (PYF) in Quarterfinal 3, and Jocelyn Poulou (PYF) secured a slot as well, set to match up with Teriinatoofa in the second Semifinal.
"I think because we (Tahitians) know the spot, especially when it's small it's harder for other surfers to come and find the right ones," said Teriinatoofa post heat. "So that is why probably we have that little bit of luck on top of them, so we have to use it."
Growing up just five minutes from Papara, Teriinatoofa, 37, is a household name in the Tahitian surf industry and routinely competes at Teahupo‘o, one of the most hallowed big wave breaks in the world. He won the Air Tahiti Nui Trials in 2016 for a slot into the Billabong Pro Tahiti, Stop No. 7 on the Championship Tour, but lost against Australia's Matt Wilkinson by less than a point in Round 2.
Today, Teriinatoofa scored an excellent 8.25 on his opening ride in the Quarters and tallied the highest combined heat total of the day, a 16.00.
"It was really hard, I didn't really expect 8 points on that wave," continued Hira. "But once you stand on that board you have to do everything you can to make sure it's a big score. And I got an 8 so I'm pretty happy."
One of two surfers left representing Hawaii, Benji Brand had an impressive performance against Poulou in the last match up of the day, but dropped out of the event after Poulou found an 8.25 ride on his final wave.
Poulou, 24, is newly married and a first-time father and only recently began surfing again after taking a year off.
"I have a new job and a new baby and I'm married now so all surfing things are on the side," said Poulou. "I just go into the contest with no pressure, I'm not expecting a good result, so all good for me today."