The first wave Filipe Toledo rode at the 2018 Tahiti Pro was a long barrel with a couple spicy little turns to finish. The energy he exuded was obvious. The judges tossed him a mid six for the effort. It had to feel better than the score. For Toledo's opening salvo, it was proof positive that the last two weeks he's spent training at the End of the Road has been well spent.
Not more than a couple minutes later, Toledo backed it up with a 7.0. The heavy lifting was done. With 27 minutes remaining in the heat, he had both Yago Dora and Tikanui Smith needing a combination of scores. Neither would threaten his lead and Toledo would cruise to a much appreciated Round 1 win.
"It feels good to finally get the rhythm over here," said Toledo after the heat.
One of the big question marks going into the Tahiti Pro was the condition of World No. 4 Italo Ferreira. After suffering a serious hamstring strain at the U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach, California, he was questionable for Tahiti. He freely admitted to not having surfed much over the last seven days, but when his Round 1 heat against Sebastian Zietz and Miguel Pupo took to the water, he got the motor running straight away. Whether it's two-foot Huntington or four-foot Teahupo'o, the man's heat strategy includes surfing himself into an unbeatable rhythm.
"I'm not 100-percent, but I'm ready to surf," admitted Ferreira from the channel.
Not to be outdone, Gabriel Medina dominated an all-Brazilian affair against Wiggolly Dantas and rookie Tomas Hermes. He opened with a mid-sized barrel that ran across the reef. Then, without priority, he went into wave-catching mode. Picking off scrappy peaks, eventually he dialed into one that afforded him the opportunity to launch a massive air rotation. Earning a 7.83 for one maneuver, it was the highest score of the day up until that point.
"I love surfing Teahupo'o. It doesn't matter how the waves are, it's always fun," said Medina. "I know that's a maneuver you can get a lot of points on and I just went for it."
Conditions improved throughout the morning, and as the morning sickness waned and the swell continued to fill in. Things really got going in Heat 5, which featured defending Teahupo'o champ Julian Wilson, veteran Joel Parkinson and wildcard Mateia Hiquily. The heat marked a transition in conditions as earlier heats were largely dominated by maneuvers, but this was the first tube-riding shoot-out of the day.
Parkinson surfed with no sense of urgency or determination, just beautiful, flowing style that's defined his 18 years on Tour. The lead between Parko and Wilson changed hands numerous times, but try as Wilson might, Parko was in a groove.
"That's the first time I've been barreled in awhile," laughed Parko after winning the heat and earning himself a spot into Round 3.
Wilson's woes would unfortunately follow him into Round 2, where he was upset by Tahitian wildcard Tikanui Smith. In a very low scoring affair, Wilson found himself needing only a small score in the dying minutes of the heat, but the Pacific went quiet and the World No. 2 made an early and unexpected exit from the contest.
"I don't have any pressure, just representing Tahiti is enough, but now I can relax and see what happens," said an elated Smith.
By far the biggest upset of the first day of the contest, the contest ran through two more heats of Round 2, which saw World No. 5 Jordy Smith advance over Hiquily, and Dantes take the win over Willian Cardoso.
The next all for the Tahiti Pro will be on Monday, August 13, at 7:00am local time.