Teahupo'o has an Eddie Aikau feel to it with its danger-factor, making it one of the most favored events (or not so much) among the competitors. Last year was cute and all with its four-to-five-foot pits but it's time for some Code Red nastiness. Well, maybe not that big -- eight-to-10-foot Chopes would be just fine; just small enough to paddle.
It looks very promising. According to the latest Surfline forecast there's a substantial swell (triple-overhead) hitting Tahiti around the 19th. Again, the pledge to you is that with this column is to give you insight to who surfs best in these particular events. It's all about who will swing under the ledge and glide down the face with enough skill to get spit out the other end.
Most of you will already have him on your team but here are some of the reasons for this collective pick. It's simple: Motivation will be abundant. At 42, Kelly is still very competitive. Not competitive like hates losing heats, that goes without saying. Competitive like not wanting to lose a stage of Candy Crush so bad that he will stay up all night searching for ways to conquer it despite losing a night's sleep, purchasing cheat apps, and being a zombie the next day. Many of you out there are addicted to this game (eh hmm...Kolohe Andino), but this example is meant to show how the dude simply can't let it go. Losing, that is. It's also a well-known fact that Kelly's interest increases with big, hollow waves. The 11-time World Champ has made some uncharacteristic mistakes this year. I don't see that happening in Tahiti. Combine those things with his hatred for being in sixth place and you have your odds on favorite to win this event. Start 'em.
Again, captain obvious choice. JJ is the best tube rider in the world. There are many amazing surfers out there who display a ton of courage and skill, but rarely do you see someone combine all aspects of surfing together like John John. It's not a matter of when, but rather how many heats JJ will win at Pipe and Teahupo'o. The kid has so much skill and confidence that he constantly pulls off the unthinkable. Now here's the X-factor: JJ can and does implode from time to time while wearing a jersey. That being said, hollow lefts are where he gains focus and usually competes smarter. Probably a good thing there are no ramps to bust giant airs on, as this seems to be too irresistible for him to avoid. No matter the result, JJ will be the one everyone fears in this draw. Start 'em.
Jadson loves Tahiti. This is a vibe that can only help when faced with a 10-foot swell. It's well documented that Jadson's resurgence on tour is because of his commitment not only to his surfing but his confidence. While taking time to requalify for the tour, Jadson found his inner happy state, conquering his demons by improving every aspect of his surfing. Carves, backhand, and yes, hollow waves. Which brings him to Teahupo'o, where a few years back you might not have thought of Jadson being in the picture. But this time around, Jadson is a real player. Start 'em.
Finding a weak link in Group A is not easy. ADS has made some serious strides, improving his skills in hollow surf. Spending extra time this winter in Hawaii, Adriano enjoyed a spot in the Final at the Volcom Pipe Pro, proving that putting in the time was worth the effort. All this means he has the potential to put in a solid performance at Teahupo'o this year. So, why sit 'em? Simply look at the rest of the picks in this group and you will see some pretty easy decisions. Kelly, Mick, Joel, and Gabriel seem like obvious front-runners to me. ADS is surfing as well as he ever has, so come Lowers-time, he very well could be a top choice to start. For now, sit 'em.
Adam is a force when it comes to his forehand snap. Teahupo'o does no favors for his strengths. When it comes to hollow waves, especially on your backhand, it's usually something you either have a knack for or not. Very rarely will you see a surfer late in his career learn the art of backside tube riding. Unfortunately I don't see Melling really improving his skills to match the likes of many of his peers in this group. There are just too many easy starts in this group for Adam to be a realistic choice. Come the Hurley Pro at Trestles, it will be a different tune. Sit 'em.
Group C has many things to consider when it comes to choosing your horse. Seeding and strengths in relation to the event location are some of the hurdles you'll need to digest with each of these surfers. Mitch is the top seed in Group C, but he is by no means a stud in hollow waves. Now could he contradict all of this, and show up and blow up? Sure, the dude is a pro surfer for pete's sake. But is there a ton of evidence that he will do so? No. This rookie is a strong surfer who has his entire career in front of him, but at this point there needs to be more proof to start him at a place as demanding as Chopes. Sit 'em.
The South African leg did wonders for Wilko's confidence. Getting the chance to wear his Cheetah print blazer didn't hurt, but it's more likely his second place finish in Ballito, backed up by his third in J-Bay, helped Wilko return to his happy place. Wilko in the past has been honest about his fear of Teahupo'o, but that didn't hold him back from giving impressive performances, (see Nixon WTA Tahiti 2011 - Matt Wilkinson - Round 3, Heat 5), consequently gaining respect from his peers and fans alike. A big result here will do wonders for his position on the WCT ratings. Matt will be quietly coming to Tahiti with expectations of making a lot of noise.