This year's Billabong Pro Tahiti will carry a little more significance for three-time World Champion Mick Fanning (AUS) than in years past. It will be his first time back in a contest jersey since the abrupt cancellation of the J-Bay Open Final due to his shark encounter, which became worldwide news. And though Fanning has been back in the water for freesurfs, at just 250 points behind No. 1, he needs a solid result if he hopes to overtake Jeep Leader Adriano de Souza (BRA).
Despite multiple appearances in what many regard as the most dangerous event on Tour, Fanning has won in Tahiti only once before, taking down friend and would-be World Champion Joel Parkinson (AUS) in the 2012 Final at Teahupo'o.
This time around, Fanning's first battle back in a jersey will be Round 1, Heat 5 at Teahupo'o.. Along with the emotions that will likely be in play, he'll face fellow Australian Adam Melling (AUS) and local wildcard Taumata Puhetini (PYF).
With a string of thirteenth-place finishes Melling, for his part, hasn't had the greatest first half of a season. Notably, though, his best result so far was ninth place in Fiji, which is similar to Tahiti in that the waves for both events are lefthand reefbreaks. Melling put on a noteworthy performance in Fiji's Round 5, boasting a 17.70-point heat total, but was victim to one of Owen Wright's two perfect heats. Fanning was also defeated in Round 5, with a two-wave points total that was far lower than Melling's.
In addition to Melling, Tahitian charger Taumata Puhetini will surf against Fanning during Round 1. As winner of the Air Tahiti Nui event trials, Puhetini was awarded an spot in Heat 5. Though he may not be one of the Top 34 on the Championship Tour, his local knowledge and solid skills at Teahupo'o earned him a spot in the elite event in 2010 and 2014.
With the combination of Melling, Puhetini and his recent trauma, Fanning will have his work cut out for him in the first round in Tahiti. Don't miss him and the rest of the elite take on the Billabong Pro Tahiti LIVE here and on the WSL App August 14 - 25.