All photos by Brent Bielmann
The 2016 Billabong Pro Tahiti was the anti-April. It came in like a lamb and went out like the king of jungle.
You’ve seen the highlights, you’ve read our unperfect heat manifesto, and now it’s time to recall the noteworthy points of the 2016 Teahupo’o extravaganza.
Priority: For multiple heats in this event, either one or both surfers did not catch a wave until five minutes remained in the 35 minute heats. Dusty Payne went a whole heat without catching a wave. Part of the problem was slow conditions, to be sure, but it was majorly due to bad positioning caused by non-priority heat starts. I was surprised to learn that some of the surfers, or at least Jordy Smith, would prefer to keep the system as is instead of starting heats with priority — based on a coin flip or some other unbiased decision making process. Jordy said he likes to see some “mongrel” in competitive surfing, but we just want to watch these guys surf.
Bruno Santos: I could watch this guy go left all day long, assuming there’s a tube on offer. He’s won the Chopes trials a handful of times, and he’s made the final day on at least half of those appearances, along with a win in 2008. At this point they should just give him a perma-wildcard into the event. All the other guys in the trials are wasting valuable airline miles.
Wilko: He looked pretty decent in Tahiti, but Wilko doesn’t have that world-title-contender feeling about him. The superheat between John and Gab was a demonstration of world-title-level surfing, and I’m not so sure Wilko could have competed with them. He had a good run, but it’s time to let the big dogs eat.
Gabriel: Aside from being one of the top 3 talents in surfing, this man is a competitive mastermind. During his quarterfinal with Josh Kerr, Gabby had eight consecutive waves that scored over seven points. All the while, Josh sat out the back waiting for The One. It never came, so Gabby had the best freesurf ever and Josh was sent packing.
10s: Julian and Gabby both deserved a score of perfection. Meanwhile, only one of Kelly’s 10s was show-stopping and undeniably perfect; the other three were questionable. Bring on the hate, Kelly superfans!
AI Award: Kelly seemed genuinely stoked to win the award of his long-time rival. Maybe he saw it as a final victory over his favorite foe, or maybe he was truly honored to receive an award in honor of a surfing icon. Probably more the latter. Either way, it was cool to see how ecstatic he was about a novelty award. It shows just how much respect he has for Andy.
JJF vs. GM: The best heat of the event, the best heat of the year. Weirdly reminiscent of their heat together last year. Also weirdly reminiscent of Kelly vs. John in 2014, especially with the 10-9.93 exchange, once again going against the Hawaiian. Luckily for John, he got a 9.7 in the last few minutes and the ocean decided to go flat. John won the heat, but we all felt like champions after witnessing such greatness.
The King: Kelly just spanked his illegitimate son John into submission. He’s still one of the top 3 barrel riders in the world, and he is a goddamn pleasure to watch when the waves are on. He probably had around 20 excellent scores in this event, including four 10s. Competitions like this make you realize that he could still win a world title, if every event on tour happened to light up. That would be a fun thing to see.
The Yellow Jersey: Sorry Wilko, it’s John’s! This year is setting up for a battle royale between the two best surfers in the world. If John is a 10 in terms of talent, Gab is a 9.8. And if Gab is a 9.5 in terms of competitive ability, John is a 8.8. It will be interesting to see if talent triumphs over intellect or vice versa. These guys both absolutely destroy the last four events on the schedule, so it’s really anybody’s game at this point. John currently has a 4,200 point lead, and he’ll likely need all of it to fend off the Brazilian Terminator.