The 2017 Billabong Pro Tahiti has not been blessed with an outstanding extended surf forecast. Organizers arrived in Tahiti knowing full well that the first few days of the 12-day waiting period looked like the most promising of the bunch. So it came as no surprise on Day 2 when Commissioner Kieren Perrow called to run final eight heats of Round Two, as well as the entirety of Round Three. In all, 20 heats of surfing (including a decision to allow no restarts) ran on a single day.
A slightly lully 4- to 5-foot south swell crept in as the early morning heats got underway around 7 a.m Saturday. As the flat, gray light turned to blue skies and just a puff of offshore wind increased throughout the day, so, too, did the performance level. In the end, it wasn't 20-foot, perfect Teahupo'o, but it was still light years better than T-Street. Scores -- both single waves and combined heats -- jumped up from the previous day's mid-range totals, with ten 9-point rides tallied across all heats (still no perfect 10s, however), including two each for Jeremy Flores and World Champ John John Florence.
Not surprisingly, Florence was the standout performer of the round. Against Californian injury wildcard Nat Young, he methodically built his way to the biggest heat score of the day -- 18.70. As usual, John shrugged it off, turning the focus back onto the wave itself. "When it's this size it's so cool, because the barrel feels so wide open," said Florence, "It's a scary wave but the reward is worth it."
Earlier another Californian, Kolohe Andino, kissed the reef after surviving the worst slam of the day, came up with a bloodied lip and then gave credit to Women's World No. 3 Courtney Conlogue for inspiration. "Courtney's got the most heart on Tour," Andino said, "She could get bit by a shark and still get the score." Andino lived to surf another day, but that cannot be said of Aussie vet Bede Durbidge, who bowed out in his final pro heat at Teahupo'o in Round Three.
There's no doubt it was a bittersweet moment for Durbidge, but he went down swinging against an on-fire Gabriel Medina. The Brazilian's 9.73 was the highest single-wave score of the entire event through Round Three. It was an appropriate swan song for the amiable bloke, who's had prolific 13-year career that includes three CT wins, a Triple Crown title in 2007 and a No. 2 overall ranking in 2008. Just prior to the Billabong Tahiti Pro, Durbidge announced his retirement at the end of the 2017 CT season, when he'll move on to a coaching role with the Australian national surf team program.
One of the most exciting heats of the day was a classic showdown between the 2012 and 2013 Billabong Tahiti Pro champs Mick Fanning and Ace Buchan. Despite getting rolled by the biggest set of the day and his first-ever lap through the lagoon in his 12 years of surfing Teahupo'o, Ace once again proved that he's a dangerous man to reckon with at Teahupo'o. He fronted Fanning a big lead early, before reeling in the 3x World Champ with a pair of 8-point rides in the heat's final 10 minutes.
As the sun began to dip over the verdant mountains of Tahiti Nui to the northwest, No.-ranked Jordy Smith jumped into the water hoping to get out of Round Three for the first time ever here. With No. 1 Matt Wilkinson surviving a low-scoring affair against Ethan Ewing earlier in the day, and both John John Florence and Owen Wright looking extremely dangerous, a solid result for Smith here in Tahiti is a must-have if he's to stay in contention for a World Title. After sitting around all day thinking about it, he delivered with a strong win over Kanoa Igarashi. He'll be facing a pair of dangerous goofyfooters in Round Four, in Ace Buchan and Joan Duru.
As for Saturday's victims, it's hard to say who the heaviest was, but Jeremy Flores probably deserves the honor being that he owned the highest score of the day in Round Two. The former event winner looked like he was headed for a huge result before being upset by rookie giant-killer Connor O'Leary in Round Three. The elimination of Fanning, Parkinson, local Michel Bourez and No. 5-ranked Adriano de Souza were all noteworthy.
But there's little time to weep for today's eliminations, because only one person will be left standing after tomorrow. Commissioner Kieren Perrow has already announced that Sunday will be Finals day, meaning that this event will be finished faster than any in history. A reinforcing swell out of the south/southeast due to arrive Sunday in Tahiti will create a more point break-like scenario at Teahupo'o, and there's a good chance that it will benefit the goofyfooters. While Florence is likely to find a workaround, former event champions like Buchan and Medina, as well as Owen Wright and rookies O'Leary and Joan Duru, will be champing at the bit to dig into the speedy, lefthand runners.
Sunday will be another long day with 15 heats total, so tune in early.
Billabong Pro Tahiti Round 4 Match-Ups:
Heat 1: Owen Wright (AUS), Connor O'Leary (AUS), Wiggolly Dantas (BRA)
Heat 2: Gabriel Medina (BRA), Kolohe Andino (USA), Matt Wilkinson (AUS)
Heat 3: John John Florence (HAW), Conner Coffin (USA), Julian Wilson (AUS)
Heat 4: Joan Duru (FRA), Adrian Buchan (AUS), Jordy Smith (ZAF)
Billabong Pro Tahiti Round 3 Results:
Heat 1: Owen Wright (AUS) 13.77 def. Ian Gouveia (BRA) 10.60
Heat 2: Connor O'Leary (AUS) def 14.33. Jeremy Flores (FRA) 13.27
Heat 3: Wiggolly Dantas (BRA) 13.33 def. Adriano De Souza (BRA) 9.57
Heat 4: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 14.60 def. Bede Durbidge (AUS) 13.23
Heat 5: Kolohe Andino (USA) 12.67 def. Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 12.27
Heat 6: Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 11.57 def. Ethan Ewing (AUS) 8.67
Heat 7: John John Florence (HAW) 18.70 def. Nat Young (USA) 15.23
Heat 8: Conner Coffin (USA) 13.77 def. Michel Bourez (PYF) 12.90
Heat 9: Julian Wilson (AUS) 17.46 def. Italo Ferreira (BRA) 16.54
Heat 10: Joan Duru (FRA) 16.40 def. Joel Parkinson (AUS) 14.40
Heat 11: Adrian Buchan (AUS) 16.70 def. Mick Fanning (AUS) 15.90
Heat 12: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 15.00 def. Kanoa Igarashi (USA) 2.26