Tahitian athletes proved to be true standouts today after taking out many of the Hawaii competitors in the Papara Pro Surf Tahiti, a World Surf League (WSL) Men's Qualifying Series (QS) 1,000 event. Local knowledge of this technical beach break wave proved to be a major advantage, particularly given the smaller conditions.
Five Hawaiians advanced into the Round 32 while Tahiti maintained a stronghold on the competition with eight surfers advancing to the Round of 32. Surfers from South Africa, Peru, France, Japan, Australia and Saint Barthelemy are also still left in the running.
Defending event champion Taumata Puhetini (PYF) fought to stay on top in his stacked heat against Shane Holmes (AUS), Keoni Yan (HAW) and Tereva David (PYF) and was able to post two good scores, a 7.25 and 7.90 for smooth carves in the playful beach break.
After an ankle injury last year during the Billabong Pro in August 2015, Puhetini looked stable and on point, and now looks to secure another win for his professional career.
The top Hawaiians to advance included Imaikalani deVault, Kai Mana Henry, Dylan Goodale, Eli Olson and Billy Kemper. Christopher Bluthardt also advanced to the main Round of 64 with 15 other local Hawaiians yet to surf.
Olson and Kemper went head to head in Heat 7 of Round 2 to edge out fellow Hawaii surfer Cody Young and Australia's Blake Levett. Maui's Kemper posted one of the higher scores of the day, an 8.0 for classic power surfing tactics, but Olson advanced in first.
"The conditions are nice but the waves are just really small and slow," said Olson. "But when they do come they're really fun." The 23-year-old has been traveling to Tahiti since the age of 12 and looked comfortable in the water. Olson tied for the highest wave score of the day, an 8.50.
"I'm just hoping I can keep finding waves," continued Olson. "My board feels good. I'm going to keep trying to find the right ones and be patient because if you start trying to hunt and chase down little ones, it's not going to work out … It's not the best surfer, it's whoever gets the best waves, for today at least."
Mihimana Braye (PYF) tied Olson for the highest wave score of the day, an 8.50 in his heat against Ulualoha Napeahi (HAW), Hira Teriinatoofa (PYF) and Dimitri Ouvre (BLM). But Braye was unable to find a backup score, which left Ouvre in the lead with an 8.25 and 6.85. Hometown hero Teriinatoofa secured second with calculated turns and a combined heat score of 13.75.
Another excellent wave of the day went to Tahiti's Vehiatua Prunier - two beautiful turns and a 360 maneuver to finish off the ride. The right-breaking wave provided an open canvas for Prunier, and the 8.00 ride allowed him to move on in first ahead of Tahitian talent Heifara Tahutini.
Matthew McGillivray (ZAF) landed a well-executed frontside air for a 7.65 from the judges in Round 2, which was enough to put him in first place with a total of 14.00 points. While the size was small, the waves still provided ramps for progressive aerial surfing.
"This beach break has some really nice air sections and there's a lot of pressure wind blowing at the moment," said McGillivray. "There's a bit of power in the waves so able to generate a little bit of speed and then use the end sections for airs."
McGillivray advanced along with Nomme Mignot (FRA). "I'm really happy, it's always nice to get a couple waves in the first heat and get the feel of the wave," continued McGillivray. "I'm happy that I made it through the first one."
Mignot opened Round 1 with a mid-scoring wave of 5.75, but it was Marc Lacomare (FRA) who stayed diligent by catching wave after wave to assure the heat win ahead of Mignot. The French surfer posted a 7.15 and a 7.23 to set the standard for the morning rides. Lacomare and Mignot advanced ahead of Dege O'Connell (HAW) and Nainoa David (PYF) by gathering as many rides as possible in the rolling beach break.
Blue sky and black sand reflected the heat of the afternoon as surfers battled it out in Round 1 and 2. The lefts and rights were both working in the small SW swell, providing rippable 4-5 foot wave faces and light SSW winds. Contest organizers will gage ocean conditions tomorrow morning at 7am with an anticipated start for 8am. If called ON, the competition will resume with Heat 11 of Round 2, here's a look at the matchup:
Makai McNamara (HAW)
Noa Mizuno (HAW)
Nate Dorman (USA)
Jocelyn Poulou (PYF)