The first three events on the 2007 Foster's ASP World Tour have been punctuated by outstanding Final's day action. To actually achieve this, and let's face it, the Final's Day is what history judges the event by, it provides the aftertaste, the tincture that lingers on the palate, a meeting of the minds between Contest Director, wave forecaster, surfers and ASP officials brings the event to its climax.
Well done Luke, Chris, Pascale, Robbo, Bushy, Dave Shipley, Renato, the whole crew at Billabong. Sensational event, you guys turned a blank canvas into a rich tapestry, and the world was watching-CLICK FOR ASPWORLDTOUR.COM
There were certainly some tasty vignettes from the final day at Snapper, the Josh Kerr/Mick Fanning miracle heat, the Slater/Durbidge stoush, and of course mighty Mick's exclamation mark in the Final. It kind of all went to plan, Quiksilver Pro event director Rod Brooks extracting two magic days from a not so extraordinary waiting period. Bells was different, in a virtual replay of last year the Rip Curl Pro went down to the penultimate day of the waiting period, the whole event journeying down the yellow brick road to Johanna several times before former ASP World Champion Damien Hardman, after consulting the chart gods, whittled the field down to a manageable one day package before activating on a plumb day at the events spiritual home, Bells Beach.
That decision rewarded the event, and the ever growing legion of web cast supporters, with a series of fascinating duals, high resolution moments and revelations. As the Cooly Kids positioned themselves for World Title runs, Mick maintained the wood on Joel, while Andy Irons roared back into contention with some sparkling form. The surfing of Tom Whittaker was a revelation, the guy has made serious strides, and Taj Burrow, after a miraculous Rd 16 escape over Danny Wills, eclipse all to raise the coveted Bell, an image savoured by hundreds of thousands on the live web stream.
The Billabong Pro Teahupoo was a different kettle of fish, event co-directors Luke Egan and Chris Callaghan faced with a rather challenging equation. Traditionally blessed with a high strike rate window, this years cycle saw an evaporation of swell just as we came into the main event window. The Von Zipper/Air Tahiti Nui Trials copped the cherry blossom moment with a memorable Final's Day pulse, a magic swell cycle reaching crescendo at precisely the right moment, Manoa Drollet and Anthony Walsh shining in truly epic, bone crunching Teahupoo. Of course, the image of Bruce Irons going over the precipice of a solid 12' wall of vertical terror in the after-sesh circumnavigated the globe about as frequently as the shock waves that emanated from Krakatoa in 1883.
All was good at this stage, but I for one was nervous. The first round of the Billabong Pro went according to script, Luke and Chris eking out the entire 16 heats in reasonable but clearly waning swell. Then it went flat for a week. Not entirely flat, this place throws up amazing little bursts, for example, on a couple occasions it came from nowhere to pulse tasty 3-4 foot crystal barrels, but only for an hour or two just before sunset. It was like big game fishing, the right lures were on, the reef was “in season”, there was some flirting, a few serious nibbles, but after a week at sea the crew went back to harbour empty handed.
Down to four days remaining in the window, with three days of program remaining, the cavalry arrived in the form of head high sets out of the south-west. The reality was that the event did not have a minute to spare. With foresight, after calculations based on the best interest of surfers and the event, stand-in ASP Head Judge Dave Shipley hit the green light at high noon on Friday May 11. Shipley adjusted the heat times to 35 minutes, where, by the way, they remained for the duration of the event, and Rd 2 began. There were 3.5 days to go, the additional five minutes per heat, times 46 heats plus a Final, added 4 hours to the program, hence not a second to spare.
The first miracle was an absolute minimum of re-starts. The deal is that if nobody rides a wave by the halfway mark, in this case being 17.5 minutes, the time begins again. There were nice waves, quite decent by any standards, but it was bloody inconsistent. Over the next two rounds, a full 32 heats, there was only one re-start. To put things in perspective, it was not proper Teahupoo, and everybody knew it. But for any other reefbreak, beachbreak or point break around the world, it was great surf. Okay, not great G/Land, or Pipe, or Cloudbreak, but wow, it wasn't half bad with one other bloke out. I was frothing in the tower; it was just what I like these days.
Surfline boss Sean Collins even stepped in, the calls were critical to finishing the event. Monday, the last day, was suss, Luke got the event down to a very manageable field of 8, and we crossed fingers and toes at Sunday supper. Contingencies were being put in place. Sean Collins was calling for the leading edge of a major swell by Wednesday, two days after the official waiting period ended. Could the Billabong Pro Teahupoo extend. These questions arrived on Renato Hickel and my doorstep.
So many boxes had to be ticked, it at first appeared insurmountable logistics to tick off. I sent Steve Robertson, Renato, Bushy Mitchell, Chris and Luke off to cover off on basic requirements. If any one of the 20 or more major boxes were not ticked by 8am Monday morning the event would have to run in whatever, the best we could offer was a 1pm start at the very latest and pray for a miracle late arvo pulse. That night I reflected on the possibilities, the ramifications of such a precedent. What did this mean for the tour, the surfers, and ASP's published schedule.
I thought long and hard about these things deep into a restless night. There were a couple things. First, this was the only year Fiji wouldn't be on, it couldn't have happened prior and Globe just signed a 3 year plus deal at Tavarua, so it couldn't happen again. Second, there was zero impact on the WQS, so ASP staff and the surfers had no immediate event bookings. The moment of clarity, however, was in a deeper meditation. I mean, we were surfers, this is kind of what surfers do. Ten years ago we were locked into 3pm Finals on Sunday afternoon, come hell, high water, onshores or Portuguese man o war. And we were failing badly.
ASP freed ourselves of those shackles by opening the waiting periods and adopting a very simple philosophy, the best surfers in the best waves. It paid dividends. A guy called Mano Zuil, with encouragement from the late Peter Whittaker, positioned ASP beautifully for the live webcast. This vision worked in perfectly with the new ASP mantra. If 3pm Sunday Finals exposed us of being major league pretenders, then the opposite extreme was to wait for this swell. But what about those boxes. What if the doctors and paramedics had to depart, the Tahitian Water Patrol had day jobs to go back to. We had the service of the best, Brian Kealana and Terry Ahui had joined forces with Eric and Arsene and the Tahitians for the finest assemblage of jet ski operators on the planet. What about insurance extensions, travel itineraries, the surfers obligations to sponsors. What about some friggin sleep!
Monday dawned to 1-2' Chopes. Andy, Cory, Joel and the boys declared it uncontestable. Miraculously the boxes were being ticked. Field reports were in, the planets were aligning in our favour. Luke and Chris were driving this thing. My deal was just give me those boxes. Luke Egan is a surfer's surfer, the perfect guy you want in control of an event. Chris knows these waters better then just about anyone. He delivered the Water Patrol. Another lynchpin was the blessing of Federation Tahiti Surf President Pascale Luciani. Renato came with boxes ticked, as did Bushy with the webcast team. Steve Robbo had the most to tick, somehow they all came in. As per the ASP Rule Book, the surfers had the final say. There was minimal impact on schedules, the boys wanted to have a real contest. The contest was duly extended until sunset on Wednesday May 16.
There was a great chemistry of Teahupoo specialists, Title contenders, rookies and tour battlers in the mix. 4-5' sets, with the occasional bomb, greeted the lads on Wednesday and another wonderful show went down. Joel finally broke through his Q/Final hoodoo, at the expense of a disappointed Andy Irons, while Damien Hobgood continued his awesome South Pacific form with a win over outstanding rookie Jeremy Flores. Mick kept his dream alive by accounting for the “most improved” Luke Stedman and in the most fascinating heat of the day, rookie sensation Kai Otton out tube dueled former Teahupooo Champion Cory Lopez to post the second highest combined score of the event, just falling in behind the Cory/Taj Rd 4 combo.
Damo and Mick dominated the Semi's, Fannings early arrival paying huge dividends. The guy is a totally different surfer at Teahupoo this year. Never considered a serious threat out here, Mick has now wired the “come from behind the foam ball” escape and joins the likes of Kelly, Andy and Bruce in this department, a quantum leap for the super fit Queensland pointbreak meister. Damo nailed Parko with a sneaky start on a wide west bomb and snagged another to leave Joel sitting with priority looking for a hail mary, while Kai Otton added a 3rd to his season opening 9th.
The Final was so slow for the first half, but came alive with a flurry of sets in the final 18 minutes. It looked like Mick all the way, but Damo approached the final encounter with stealth and patience, securing the win with an 8.60 in the closing 30 seconds. It was an absorbing battle, vindicating the decision to wait, and provided a win/win for both surfers. Damien Hobgood atoned for his heartbreaking shoulder injury when vying for the win 3 years ago, his triumphant return to the winners circle planting him firmly as the most dangerous contender in the South Pacific leg. For Mick Fanning a 1,3,2 start to the year puts him well on track for a maiden World Title, as well as answering any critics who claimed that Chopes was the weak card in his deck.
Well done Luke, Chris, Pascale, Robbo, Bushy, Dave Shipley, Renato, the whole crew at Billabong. Sensational event, you guys turned a blank canvas into a rich tapestry, and the world was watching. A big thanks to our Polynesian friends. Sweet dreams.