Owen in the Mist
This photo of Owen features in a video clip that MySurf.tv made in the Master Photographer Peter Joli Wilson video here in Australia. Every time I see this image pop up in the clip, 'Gorillas in the Mist' jumps into my head because he's engulfed in the misty spray.
It's all about Owen's positioning in this Teahupo'o bomb casually standing tall, deep in the barrel and exiting through the mist generated by the spit of spray as the wave barrels. Owen had been finding this type of wave all day.
Big West peaks where he'd drop in late burying himself deep in the pit before sailing effortlessly out as the wave ended. He'd used this tactic again and again to make his way through heats and into the Final.
Kelly's Final Tactics
Finals day saw some real Teahupo'o barrels through most of the day but as the tide filled in the frequency of the bigger sets dropped off, they were still there but it was a long wait between them. Anyone who has watched Owen surf heats knows he has nerves of steel and will wait for the perfect wave or a wave that he figures will give him the score he needs. He'd used this strategy all day but in the Final Kelly used it against him.
Kelly combined the declining swell and priority to win the event. When Owen had priority Kelly would sit shoulder to shoulder with him and they would spar for the west peak bombs but without priority Kelly would head to the inside and snag smaller barreling runners along the reef. A lot of them were even inside the media boats. Kelly nailed a couple of these long barrels with lots of tube time and the judges were throwing high scores at them. The tactic worked and Kelly had another Teahupo'o Title to his name.
Owen vs Kelly
The Teahupo'o Final between Kelly and Owen was the first of three back to back Titles over a four week period for the pair. The richest surf event in ASP history, the Quiksilver Pro went down in New York just a few days after Tahiti with Kelly and Owen meeting in the Final again.
This time Owen turned the tables with massive airs and picked up the $300,000 first prize purse. Two weeks later the pair were back at each other in the Final of the Hurly pro at Trestles with Kelly coming out on top. During the presentation speech at the Hurly event, Owen joked about Kelly going 2 to1 in the Finals and Kelly shot back that Owen had come out on top by earning more prize money for his win than Kelly had with the two wins in Teahupo'o and Trestles.
The pair were neck and neck in the World Title race going into the The Rip Curl Search event in San Francisco where Kelly was awarded the World Title Trophy twice after a rating points mix up. He was first presented with the Trophy after Owen had lost and Kelly had moved through to the next round. The mix up came when it was realised that they were both on the same number of ratings points and Kelly needed to win another heat. He did that the next day and he was again presented with the World Title Trophy.
The Teahupo'o Coconut Wireless
The Quiksilver Pro New York was the richest prize purse in surfing history in 2011 but it almost didn't happen. It was going to be a very tight turn around from the Teahupo'o Event to get everyone to New York and out to Long Beach for the Quiksilver Event. There were rumours flying around Teahupo'o that Hurricane Irene was causing havoc along the East Coast with high winds, rain, flooding and beach erosion which could lead to the Event being cancelled.
I was sitting in the tin shed that doubled as the Media room on the end of the Teahupo'o Marina after the contest had finished working on images and writing a contest report when I got a frantic Skype call from Mrs Joli saying New York was OFF. Our 4 month schedule on the road was in tatters, I was arriving home to swap bags and continue to New York which was our first stop.
At the time we shared the same travel agent as Quiksilver in Australia and the dilemma was all Quiksilver New York plane tickets were cancelled; Event was off. On the ground in Tahiti, Renato Hickel as ASP Tour Manager was assuring everyone that New York was ON. Sometime between August 31 and September 1 as surfers and crew flew out of Tahiti, the New York contest was actually cancelled only to be reinstated a few hours later after intense backroom manoeuvres by all official parties.
Thankfully, a scaled back version of The Quiksilver Pro New York went on to make history, not only due to the prize money but also thanks to another Hurricane, Katia, who stayed out to sea and she produced some of the best waves ever seen at Long Beach.
The waves at Teahupo'o have many moods from massive West bombs to clean South swell runners. The contest used to be held in May at the start of the Southern Hemisphere Winter but when Billabong took over sponsorship they'd worked through the weather history and figured out the swell was more consistent in August at the end of Winter than during May at the beginning of Winter.
Apparently the winds weren't quite as good and there could be a lot more rain as the seasons changed but there was a chance of more swell during the waiting period. For photographers the lay days during the waiting period are a chance to score some free surfing as the top guys practice. Ted Grambeau and I were staying together along with about 8 of the Top 45 at Papa Tevas and we had sorted a boat to shoot some free surf.
You have to get in a day or two before because boats are hard to come by. We'd booked a boat and even though the swell was small the conditions were clean and sunny. We spent an hour or so trying to shoot waist high Teahupo'o before calling it. We were about to write the day off and the $'s we'd forked out for the boat when we saw little pitching waves on the opposite side of the Teahupo'o Reef pass. We motored over and spent the next two hours shooting some of the prettiest and most unique breaking waves I've ever shot.
Usually on a swell this reef is out of control and closes out but on this day the swell was so small and the direction changed with each little peak that as it hit the fingers of the reef it sucked below sea level, bent and twisted as it broke. Virtually every wave was different, different thickness, different angles, some closed out, some pitched in gaping tubes. It was mesmerising and a real bonus for Ted and I after the tiny session we'd tried to shoot at the main break. One of the waves was used as a Christmas card sent out by The Surfers Journal, hence this waves name.
The Mid-Year rotation of surfers in the Top 45 where the bottom 4 surfers on the WCT ratings were replaced by the top four surfers on the WQS ratings was an experiment that caused a lot of angst during its time, especially amongst the surfers that stayed at Papa Tevas. Pat Gudauskas was one of the guys on the edge of being cut off the tour in its first year of use. The Teahupo'o Event was the cut off point and Pat was right on the cusp. It took the first completed Rodeo Clown in a WCT event in small windblown Teahupo'o for him to score a narrow heat win and survive.
By mid 2011 Bobby Martinez, who had been a regular guest in the Teva house and a previous Teahupo'o winner and was only counting average results looked like being cut from the World Tour. He was making his feelings very well known about the mid-year rotation, blowing up in the media pre-event and eventually deciding to boycott the Tahiti contest in protest. Two other Teva housemates, CJ Hobgood and Gabe Kling were also on the Cut Off bubble and had to do well in Tahiti and New York to stay on Tour.
Unfortunately both guys fell victim to the rotation and were cut from the Top 45 after New York. Bobby Martinez did surf in New York and famously gave a live on-air explosive post heat interview which consequently saw him banned from the Tour by the ASP and he was cut or retired, which ever way you want to read it, from the World Tour.
Bobby's protests and complaints about the mid year rotation played a big part in the concept being dropped just a few months later at the end of the year ASP meeting. On the positive side of the 2011 mid year rotation, John John Florence and Gabriel Medina both came into the Top 45 with Medina winning two of the next four WCT Events, the Quiksilver Pro in France and the Rip Curl Search Event in San Francisco and really shaking up the Top 45.
Jeremy 20 Points
Jeremy Flores in 2011 was the current Pipeline Masters Champion, a Title he won in December the year before at Pipeline in Hawaii. At the time he came under a lot of criticism from surf fans around the globe that didn't think he deserved the coveted Pipe Title. Over the last days of the Tahiti event he silenced his detractors by first defeating local wild-card Heiarii Williams, a Teahupo'o specialist, following it up by beating Cory Lopez, another tube riding specialist and Teahupo'o regular and finally scoring two perfect 10-point rides against his good friend Michel Bourez. The only other surfer to notch up the perfect 20-point heat score at Teahupo'o is Kelly Slater in 2005.
Flores was still buzzing about his perfect score hours later. "I've never got a 10 in my whole ASP career," he said at the time, "and now I've got two in the same heat. Michel (Bourez) was late for the heat and I didn't know what was going on. When he turned up we just seemed to go wave for wave, he got a 10 and a 9-something and I got two 10s. He's one of my best friends on Tour and we just had the best heat together. He would have won any other heat today."
Jordy vs Travis Re-Surf
The Billabong Pro Tahiti still had one more day to run and it had been chalking up memorable moments that would be talked about for years. Sunday's action was a far cry from Saturday's tow-in extravaganza, with the swell dropping back to a more reasonable 6 to 8 feet for most of the day.
First came the decision to stop the heat between South Africans Jordy Smith and Travis Logie. It had been a lacklustre heat for surfing until Smith tried to pull into a 6-foot barrel, wiped out and got nailed on the reef. He came up in agony. The "Impact Drivers" (i.e. water patrol) had him on the back of the ski in seconds, but it was clear by his positioning that he was seriously injured. As the medical staff tried to assess Smith's condition the announcement came over the PA that their heat was on hold. Contest regulars, including a number of surfers, all wondered what was going on. As far as anyone could remember a heat had never been stopped before by an injury to one of the competitors.
Travis Logie, who was winning the heat at the time, wasn't sure what was happening, his coach was yelling to take one more wave. Jordy Smith's trainer was calling out to the officials, "What's going on? Are we on hold?". No one really knew except for the announcer, repeating that the heat was on hold.
Smith looked like he was incapable of surfing, but he wanted to keep going with the heat. Eventually Smith had his ribs strapped up, paddled back into the lineup and they restarted the heat.
Both Logie and Smith seemed rattled by the interruption, Smith with his pain and Logie out of rhythm with the waves. Smith won the heat despite the circumstances and the Quiksilver camp was lodging a protest with the ASP before either surfer had towelled off. The ASP Tour manager stepped in and explained that the heat should never have been stopped for an injury and it needed to be re-surfed. Logie won the re-surf and made it into the quarterfinals. He needed the valuable ratings points in his quest for a spot back into the top 34.
Owen Wright - First World Tour Final
For Wright, surfing in his first World Tour Final, it seemed he was just happy to be there and he was buzzing with all the excitement that goes with being on stage.
"I'm stoked man to finally make a final, especially at Teahupo'o," he said after things had settled down a little. "It's just one of those places that's an incredible place to surf. Just to have heats out there, that final, it didn't really matter which ever way it went, of course you obviously want to win but man we got 9s, we got 8s, we had a great time it was just awesome."
Four days ago prior Wright had been nervous about the swell predictions for the weekend and on the big tow-in day he sat in the channel for most of the day just watching. "That tow day spun me out, I was the most nervous I have ever been," he said.
"I was sitting with Dean Bowen and I was asking, "Do you reckon I could do it?" and he went, "Don't do it. You're still in the main event" and I went, "Yeah alright." I could use that as an excuse because a lot of me really didn't want to do it, but looking at those barrels and not giving it a go was pretty tough."
Expression Session Dedicated to Andy
Kelly Slater claimed his 47th elite World Tour victory at the Billabong Pro Tahiti, but it was an Expression Session dedicated to the late Andy Irons who had won the event the previous year that created the emotion. To the haunting melody of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's ‘What a Wonderful World' ringing out across the lagoon, Bruce Irons with brother Andy's board under his arm was ferried through the flotilla of craft and out into the lineup.
In honor of the fallen World Champion, Billabong granted Bruce Irons and friends a chance to surf during the break between the Semi-Finals and Final. Joining Irons was Joel Parkinson, Luke Egan, Koby Abberton and Keala Kennelly. Slater, ready to surf the final, paddled into the lineup late in the Expression Session and caught a couple of waves too. As Bruce Irons left the line up his last comment to the people watching and surfing was, "For my brother, I thank you."
Slater Wins Third Teahupo'o Victory
Almost on queue the heavens opened and rain began to fall as the hooter sounded to start the Final. It had been sunny all day but as the "Bruce and Friends" session finished a rain squall let loose across the lineup. For a good part of the 30-minute final, Slater and Owen Wright competed with torrential rain pouring down from the sky and it was still dumping as Slater notched his third Billabong Pro Tahiti win, backing up victories in 2003 and 2005.
On the presentation stage, Slater dedicated his win to Andy Irons. "Andy won last year and it feels really special to win this year knowing that."
Slater teared up before adding, "The last heat I had against Andy was out here in the Semi-Final last year, so I'm really stoked and really honored to win."
While Slater never seemed to be in any real rhythm during Finals day he kept making heats. In the Final he surfed an extremely tactical heat. When he had priority he moved out the back and sat around Wright, chasing the set waves. Without priority he prowled the inside lineup, at times sitting more than 30-40 yards away from his opponent.
"I think with priority you have to wait for the good ones and without priority you have to sneak the ones that people don't realise that are really good," he explained. "I was just trying to play it right and not let too many good waves get past me. Owen passed up a lot of good waves in that heat that he didn't realise were good ones. There were a few waves that he could have gotten nines on, those little inside four footers; those little south ones that ran along the reef were much better than he thought. You have to watch the waves and know the tides. He'll learn, but he missed a few opportunities out there today."