Update: Friday Forecast
While it'll be tough to match the perfection we just encountered in J-Bay, Tahiti is one of the few places in the world with potential to outshine anywhere else. While we're not likely going to have the massive conditions we did during the epic year of 2014, the Billabong Pro Tahiti is likely to kick off early in the waiting period with a solid dose of surf on tap.
Now that we're past the midway point of the year, seeding is based 100 percent off the current Jeep Leaderboard, which means that Tier A is packed full of hammers.
Matt Wilkinson is on top of the Jeep Leaderboard again this year heading into Tahiti, but this is the spot where he surrendered the Jeep Leader's jersey to John John Florence last year, and the past five years in Tahiti haven't been kind to Wilko. He's earned four straight 13ths and a 25th there, which is hardly a good enough defense against the likes of Florence and Owen Wright, who are within 250 and 1800 points, respectively. Florence and Wright have only placed outside of the Quarterfinals once in five years between them, and that was when Florence lost to Gabriel Medina in Round Three with an 18.84 heat total.
Florence is 2nd in Average Heat Score (AHS)at this event with 16.15 points and 17 of his 25 heats surfed at Teahupo'o have resulted in the Excellent Heat category (16.00 points or higher). That means 68 percent of the heats he surfs average two 8's at least. He makes the impossible look like a cakewalk and no doubt will be on the majority of people's fantasy teams.
Owen is not far behind with an AHS at 15.08 and 16 Excellent Heats, but actually owns a slightly higher Heat Win Percentage than John's 68 percent with a 69 percent himself. Add in his two Andy Irons Most Committed Awards and it's clear these two guys are the most dangerous high seeds in Tier A.
After cleaning house at J-Bay with one of the most dominant performances in WSL history, all eyes will be on Filipe Toledo, who has everything to prove in lefthand barrels. During his Round Five in 2015, Filipe finished with a bagel in his scoreline after failing to take off on a single wave against Italo Ferreira. While it didn't seem like fear was the factor, it's a memory that will stick with a lot of fans until he makes them forget about it with a gutsy performance.
World Title hopeful Jordy Smith would likely be happy to just hold serve against his rivals and make a few heats before diving into one of his favorite events, the Hurley Pro Trestles. He's never cracked the Quarterfinals at Teahupo'o, but has proven he will swing on a bomb if it comes his way.
We can't start off Tier B without commiserating the loss of Kelly Slater to injury. The man has five event wins in 16 attempts. He owns the highest AHS, HWP and more than doubles anyone else in the Excellent Heat department with 41. It will be a sad, foreign feeling not to see him throw on a singlet and make magic happen, but Tier B isn't without surfers who've achieved past success.
In fact, you can pick all four of the non-Kelly Billabong Pro Tahiti champions on the CT if you'd like. Mick Fanning, Ace Buchan, Jeremy Flores and Gabriel Medina all sit here, with Medina taking the top honors for recent success.
Gabriel is right behind John with a 15.65 AHS and behind only Kelly with a 76 percent HWP. He's a certified freak who literally didn't fall until the Final back in 2014 when Chopes was flexing on borderline tow-size. The raw talent this guy possesses in left barrels is second to none and it'll likely take the heat of someone's life to oust him, like John did in last year's Semifinal.
Another man who seems to have a downright spiritual connection with Tahiti is Jeremy Flores. He did miss 2014 with a suspension and we all lost because of it. Nearly scalping his face off in Lakey Peak didn't stop him from bouncing back to win in 2015. As another recipient of the Andy Irons Most Committed Award, the webcast numbers rise when Jeremy's heat hits the water in Tahiti. Speaking of spiritual connection, something just isn't adding up when it comes to Michel Bourez at his home break. He's surfed in the event eight times and never cracked the Quarterfinals. Michel's AHS is 14th at this location currently on Tour and it's not like he's been wildly inconsistent with highs and lows. The Spartan only holds two Excellent Heats with a HWP at 32 percent in Tahiti. That's below Jordy, Adriano and Wilko. We know he's capable of greatness and even able to invent tube stalls, but history shows there are smarter options available in this bracket.
Someone like Ace Buchan, for instance, could be considered a safer pickup. He's surfed in 10 events and made it to the Quarters in half of those. Buchan owns a top 5 HWP and in Tahiti as a seasoned veteran on Tour, is still cracking the top 10 in AHS for 2017. The way Ace rides a foamball you'd think his feet and board have magnets.
There are plenty of sleepers in Tier B and many routes to take. Conner O'Leary proved he's one to take seriously in Fiji. Kolohe Andino has had a couple of sneaky performances at Chopes and has been visiting the place since he was a preteen. Conner Coffin doesn't seem to be concentrating on the QS and is all-in on requalifying through the CT. Rated 17th, there's still much work to do but no one doubts his ability.
Tier C has stayed pretty consistent throughout 2017 and if there's one name that still looks out of place, it's Josh Kerr. Lucky for Kerrzy, Teahupo'o has been a favorite for years. He's made the Quarterfinals in half of the eight events surfed during his career, though only made it into the Semifinals once. Kerr does sit in the top 10 for AHS (13.65 points) and HWP (57 percent). Those are signs to look for when choosing from this bracket.
Outside of Josh, there's nothing you'd consider a proven commodity here. Nat Young's shown some flashes in the past, but it's never boosted him past a 13th place result. He gets the nod for Tahiti because of Slater's injury, after missing J-Bay due to a fully healthy Tour roster.
If Fiji is an omen for who might do well here, beware of rookie Leo Fioravanti. He's come on as of the past two events and was practically born with confidence in heavy conditions.
Wildcard options this year don't have the feel of years past, but have proven to be wrecking balls on a regular basis at this event.
Trials winner Aritz Aranburu won't strike Bruno Santos-style fear into the top seeds, but he's a solid tube rider anywhere in the world. His AHS is 12.98 through four events surfed at Tehupo'o and owns a respectable 50 percent HWP.
Local Taumata Puhetini has surfed in three previous events with an AHS of 8.69 and zero heat wins. He suffered an incredibly heavy wipeout in the event back in 2014 that terrified everyone. It's great to see him still out there nabbing bombs.
Make sure to pick your teams soon as there's a high probability the event kicks off day one of the waiting period, this Friday Tahiti time.