TEAHUPO’O, Tahiti (Monday, August 22, 2016) - The Billabong Pro Tahiti, Stop No. 7 of 11 on the 2016 Samsung Galaxy WSL Championship Tour (CT), continued today in three-to-five foot (1 - 1.5 metre) surf at Teahupo’o. The day saw top scores and exciting match-ups as the world’s best surfers battled through Rounds 3 and 4 to avoid elimination and earn a direct advance to the Quarterfinals.
Event wildcard and 2008 Billabong Pro Tahiti winner, Bruno Santos (BRA), lit up the competition today with electric performances in both rounds. The Brazilian, who gained entry into the event after winning the Trials, looked unstoppable today as he not only knocked out the top ranked surfer on the CT in Round 3, but also posted highest heat score of the day, a near-perfect 18.30 in Round 4, to defeat two former event winners.
Santos began by causing a huge upset in Round 3 Heat 6 by defeating Matt Wilkinson (AUS), Jeep Ratings’ Leader. With limited opportunities during the heat, Santos got busy on the inside to earn a 12.33 combined heat score to take the lead. With only five minutes left in the heat, Wilkinson had yet to put points on the board. A set out the back gave Wilkinson an opportunity to challenge Santos, but the Australian failed to make it out of the barrel.
“I was watching the last heat and the end of that heat was really good, so in the beginning of my heat I was trying to get the first good wave,” said Santos. “Wilko [Matt Wilkinson] and I fought for the priority, but when the sets came I was too deep. I started to get the small ones and just made my scores enough to put me in the lead. I am feeling really good. It is hard to surf against Wilko who is doing really well this year. I feel stronger that I beat the big guys. I just want to keep going, step-by-step.”
Wilkinson is eliminated in equal 13th place and will relinquish his first place position on the Jeep Leaderboard to John John Florence (HAW) if the Hawaiian is able to make the Quarterfinals in Tahiti.
“I started just as I wanted to,” Wilkinson said. “But, on that first set, we were both too deep for it. Obviously, I would have loved to have been on it in the perfect spot, but I made sure he did not have an easy line into it. The heat just slowly ran away from me. I was happy letting him get those 5’s and that 6 because I decided that I wasn’t settling for anything but an 8 or above. I am disappointed, but good luck to Bruno [Santos] in the rest of the event. There is so much of the year left and I am going to focus on getting big results. Hopefully I can get on another little roll and win a few. For Lowers, I am going to work on high performance surfing and being as consistent as I can.”
Santos advanced on to Round 4 Heat 2, which saw a stacked match-up of former event winners -- 11-time WSL Champion Kelly Slater (USA) and Adrian Buchan (AUS). Four-time event winner Slater showcased why he is the most decorated surfer on the CT as he miraculously came out of a cavernous barrel to earn the event’s first perfect 10.00. Santos challenged the veteran with two near-perfect 9-point rides to take 0.13-point lead over Slater and the win. Santos will advance to the Quarterfinals, while Slater and Buchan will battle again in elimination Round 5.
“I am super stoked to win that heat,” said Santos. “There were three event champions in that heat. Ace [Adrian Buchan] is so good here and Kelly [Slater] is the man. It actually was a dream for me to beat Kelly. I’ve surfed against him maybe four or five times, but as a kid I always dreamed of beating Kelly somewhere, but here it is special. It was a crazy heat with Kelly’s perfect 10. I am super stoked to be in the Quarterfinals and beat two of my favorite surfers here.”
Kolohe Andino (USA), Josh Kerr (AUS) and Julian Wilson (AUS) also earned a direct advance to the Quarterfinals following Round 4 wins.
Andino took on Keanu Asing (HAW) and Jordy Smith (ZAF) in Round 4 Heat 1. Smith held the lead for the majority of the heat, but Andino scored with an excellent 9.53 in the last two minutes. Andino’s patience paid off as he edged a narrow victory and his place in the Quarterfinals.
“That heat was scrappy - I was waiting and waiting and finally I got a couple of waves,” said Andino. “I knew that a good wave was going to come and then it did, so I tried my best and held. I was really amped up when I made it because it means I go straight to the Quarters, which is a result for me. This is the first event my dad has been to all year and I’m stoked he’s here. I’m having a really fun time here this year but I know the Quarters will be tough.”
Kerr earned his first Quarterfinal berth of the 2016 season after defeating CT superstar Florence and Jadson Andre (BRA) in Round 4 Heat 3. Florence and Andre will be relegated to Round 5, where they will battle to stay alive in the competition.
“I am feeling great, but what a weird heat that one was,” Kerr said. “There was so much seaweed and coconut sticks in the water. It was not dangerous for waves, it was just dangerous to catch a wave that was half a foot because you would get hit in the heat by a coconut or something. The best wave of the heat was John’s [Florence] one and he got all of that seaweed and it just stopped him in his tracks. I am just stoked to keep rolling through and keep the vibes going.”
Round 4 Heat 4 saw an intense clash of CT heavyweights, as Wilson took on WSL Champions Joel Parkinson (AUS) (2012) and Gabriel Medina (BRA) (2014). The thrilling match-up up saw each of the three surfers charge and post 9-point rides. Wilson opened his account with a near-perfect 9.70 and Parkinson quickly followed suit with a 9.37. Wilson locked in an excellent 8.27 back-up score and held the lead for the entire heat. Medina fought back with a 9.27, but like Parkinson, could not find the second score required to take the Quarterfinal spot.
“That was great to start the heat with a few waves,” Wilson said. “The heat before had nothing in it at all. We were even super deep at the start of the heat, too. We were hassling each other a bit. That real south wave popped up and I was able to get a score out of it. Joel [Parkinson] caught one that was really good. Gabby [Gabriel Medina] came back into the heat with a 9. It was pretty much wide open until the end, but the waves just shut down after Gabby’s wave.”
Wilson previously eliminated defending event winner Jeremy Flores (FRA) in Round 3 Heat 10 with a buzzer-beater barrel ride to score a near-perfect 9.20.
Round 3 also saw another shock elimination when Asing took down 2015 Rookie of the Year, Italo Ferreira (BRA), in the opening heat of the day. Asing secured a 5.67 on his opening exchange to take an early lead. The top-seeded Brazilian took control with a 12.58 combined score, but the Hawaiian came out of a deep tube ride to earn an excellent 8.40 for a narrow 1.64 lead. Ferreira will walk away with a 13th place finish from the event.
“It was like I said earlier, ‘Kill or be killed,’” Asing said. “I am coming out as hard as I can. I came prepared to this event. Even though I do not have any results this season, that does not mean that I am going to give up. I came ready and I stuck to my game plan. I feel like Italo [Ferreira] thought he was going to walk right through that heat and he thought I was probably an easy draw, but I am giving it the best I can. I am fighting for money, my career, my work, and I will not let these guys take my money and take my job.”
2016 WSL Rookies Alex Ribeiro (BRA) and Kanoa Igarashi (USA), the last two rookies left in the draw, were eliminated in Round 3 by CT superstars Florence and Parkinson, respectively.
Event organizers will reconvene tomorrow at 6:10 a.m. local time for a possible 6:35 a.m. start.
Highlights from the Billabong Pro Tahiti will be webcast LIVE at WorldSurfLeague.com
High Res Images from this event available for editorial use via Reuters
For more information, check out WorldSurfLeague.com
BILLABONG PRO TAHITI ROUND 3 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Keanu Asing (HAW) 14.07 def. Italo Ferreira (BRA) 12.43
Heat 2: Kolohe Andino (USA) 15.03 def. Adam Melling (AUS) 5.67
Heat 3: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 7.00 def. Matt Banting (AUS) 5.17
Heat 4: Adrian Buchan (AUS) 15.50 def. Alejo Muniz (BRA) 7.33
Heat 5: Kelly Slater (USA) 17.50 def. Nat Young (USA) 12.50
Heat 6: Bruno Santos (BRA) 12.33 def. Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 6.83
Heat 7: John John Florence (HAW) 13.33 def. Alex Ribeiro (BRA) 8.57
Heat 8: Josh Kerr (AUS) 17.44 def. Dusty Payne (HAW) 4.37
Heat 9: Jadson Andre (BRA) 12.07 def. Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 9.57
Heat 10: Julian Wilson (AUS) 16.03 def. Jeremy Flores (FRA) 14.77
Heat 11: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 15.53 def. Kanoa Igarashi (USA) 5.20
Heat 12: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 15.66 def. Kai Otton (AUS) 7.83
BILLABONG PRO TAHITI ROUND 4 Results:
Heat 1: Kolohe Andino (USA) 15.30, Jordy Smith (ZAF) 12.63, Keanu Asing (HAW) 11.63
Heat 2: Bruno Santos (BRA) 18.30, Kelly Slater (USA) 18.17, Adrian Buchan (AUS) 8.33
Heat 3: Josh Kerr (AUS) 11.00, Jadson Andre (BRA) 10.06, John John Florence (HAW) 2.96
Heat 4: Julian Wilson (AUS) 17.97, Joel Parkinson (AUS) 13.04, Gabriel Medina (BRA) 10.60
BILLABONG PRO TAHITI ROUND 5 MATCH-UPS:
Heat 1: Jordy Smith (ZAF) vs. Adrian Buchan (AUS)
Heat 2: Kelly Slater (USA) vs. Keanu Asing (HAW)
Heat 3: Jadson Andre (BRA) vs. Gabriel Medina (BRA)
Heat 4: Joel Parkinson (AUS) vs. John John Florence (HAW)
All images WSL