The top of the Jeep Leaderboard can't get any tighter as the men's World Title race resumes this at the Billabong Pro Tahiti. With only 800 points separating the top three surfers and just five events left to go, this year's battle of the barrel riders will play a major role in the race. And with 5x event winner Kelly Slater out this year, the door for a new Teahupo'o champion is wide open.
Nobody in the Top 5 has won the Billabong Pro Tahiti. In fact, Gabriel Medina, who's currently sitting at No. 9 on the Jeep Leaderboard, is the highest ranked surfer with a Tahiti win under his belt. Jeremy Flores, Mick Fanning, and Ace Buchan round out the former Teahupo'o champs who will be competing again this year.
Meanwhile, up at the top of the rankings, Matt Wilkinson, John John Florence, Jordy Smith and Owen Wright are still searching for their first wins at this event.
In his five appearances at Teahupo'o, Florence has racked up an impressive average heat score (AHS) of 16.15, which is second only to Kelly Slater's 16.65. Florence has also made the Semis three times, with his one and only Finals appearance coming last year against Slater.
Amazingly, Wright's five Tahiti results are nearly identical to Florence's. In fact, Wright has a slightly better Heat Win Percentage (HWP). Both surfers have bagged runner-up finishes, as well as two 3rds and a 5th at Teahopo'o. Wright's Average Heat Score is just a shade lighter than Florence's at 15.08.
Teahupo'o hasn't been nearly as kind to Jeep Leader Matt Wilkinson and No. 3-ranked Jordy Smith. Wilkinson has made the Quarterfinals only once in his seven appearances, while Smith has never cracked them in his eight showings. He did suffer a broken rib there in 2011, though.
Both Wilkinson and Smith have AHS's in the 11-point range, which leaves them outside the Top 20 in that category.
Meanwhile, the obvious threat to the current crop of Title contenders is Gabriel Medina. Medina's record tops all comers this year heading in. His HWP of 76 percent is a decent chunk higher than Wright's 69 percent and Florence's 68 percent. He knows what it takes to win in Tahiti, too, and he'd love nothing more than to climb back into this year's Title race.
The waiting period for the Billabong Pro Tahiti begins August 11. Stay tuned to worldsurfleague.com to watch it live.