Competitors were treated to excellent barreling conditions on opening day of the Air Tahiti Rangiroa Pro 2018 and many touted the waves as some of the very best on the Qualifying Series (QS) grind. Two perfect 10-point rides and multiple near-perfect 9's were tallied today as athletes from Hawaii, Tahiti and USA relished in 30-minute heats to the tune of an ideal NNE swell that met the remote atoll of Rangiroa -- located within the Tuamotu Islands.
Round Two saw a superheat between Hawaiian Ulualoha Napeahi, defending event winner Heremoana Luciani, Noa Mizuno and Round 1 standout Kuio Young as they traded barrels in the changing tide. The four competitors were treated to seemingly endless scoring opportunities and Napeahi had a field day. The Hawaiian posted the event's first perfect 10 in his competitive debut on a deep, backside tube after navigating the foam ball.
"The feeling was really good," said Napeahi post-heat. "I was thinking to myself, how much deeper could I get? I was literally on the foam ball sliding and thought I was going to lose it, and then caught it and the spit helped me out so on top of that I was thinking, what more could I do to get better, I thought it was a ten. I've never got a ten and I thought it was a ten."
"I thought riding backside was more to surfers' advantage because when you're frontside it's harder to slow down because the swell direction is so perfect for Rangiroa," Napeahi commented. "Backside you can kind of stall more and get deeper in the barrel, as for frontside you have to take off behind the peak and drive in the barrel. That heat was a lot for me because, I mean the waves are as a perfect as it can get in any event. It was my first heat and I hope I can do it again."
Luciani, a proven winner at Rangiroa, felt calm and prepared after a week of practice ahead of today's competition, combined with years of knowledge at the Tahitian surf break.
"I'm just enjoying life over here in Rangiroa and it's perfect, waves are so good," said Luciani. "We've had good waves for a week, so I practiced a lot. But I just take it as it comes -- relax, surf and enjoy."
Luciani posted the second highest two-wave total of the day, an 18.80 behind Napeahi, and nudged Honolulu's Mizuno out of the competition, despite his excellent scores of a 9.25 and 8.50. The Tahitian will go against standout Vehiatua Prunier, Eala Stewart and Sheldon Paishon in the first heat of Round Three once competition resumes.
Tereva David also earned 10's across the scoreboard with the longest barrel of the day that bent perfectly for maximum tube time. The wave seemed to do all the work while David remained perfectly positioned in the pit, however the Tahitian has put in a lifetime at Rangiroa and considers the reef his playground. Wave knowledge and key positioning came into play for his perfect ride.
"I came to surf here when I was a little kid," said David. "It was our gift for Christmas from my uncle, he had the big boat for surf trips and every Christmas and on holidays it was to come on the boat to the Tuamotu Islands. So I've surfed this wave uncrowded and with perfect barrels. That is why we are here."
In Round Two Heat 7, David went against a formidable Hawaii trio including Kauai's Kainehe Hunt, Oahu's Luke Shepardson and Maui's Kai Lenny. Shepardson and Lenny both had excellent scores and maintained advancing positions for half of the heat, but rankings turned after David scored his 10-point ride and he and Hunt ended up with first and second place respectively.
"I was in the peak with Kai Lenny, he had priority and I guess he didn't see that one because it was a west one," said David. "I was in a good position and just paddled as fast as I can and then when I took off I could see it was a really good one. It was like a highway, a long wall of perfect barrel and I was just inside, not even stalling, just staying inside and the wave just turned perfectly. I got the perfect speed, the perfect board and the perfect wave and this is the perfect contest."
David's home break is Tapuna, on the main island of Tahiti, however he is a standout at the famed heavy-water break of Teahupo‘o and also along the North Shore of Oahu.
"I surf a reef break every day and I'm familiar with it, the reef is my playground, I love surfing barrels," he continued. "All the Hawaiians too, it's a good competition because we're all friends and we all surf good in the barrel, so if you have the luck you make your heat and you're stoked.
From the North Coast of Tahiti, Vehiatua Prunier was another noteworthy performer today and scored a 9.50 in the last minutes of Round Two Heat 1 to advance with a heat win. After a late drop in the critical part of the wave, Prunier got a deep, albeit short barrel and completed the wave with beautiful rail turns.
"When I came out of the barrel I knew it was a good one because that wave was so round and perfect and I did two maneuvers after, so I was stoked," said Prunier. "Before that I was a little bit stressing, but I was waiting outside. I had second priority and then white [Ian Gentil] did kind of a mistake, he had first priority and went on a small one and lost his priority and I thought, I'm going to wait for a good one, and this wave came and it was so perfect."