FANTASY SURFER: 2007 ASP Billabong Pro Tahiti 2007

When Billabong Pro contest director Luke Egan and the surfers remaining in one of the WCT’s most prestigious events made a unanimous decision to extend the waiting period for only the second time in Dream Tour history, a bet hedged in large part thanks to technology and the miracle that is swell forecasting, it was with much anxiety that everybody involved in the Tahitian event woke. The swell wasn’t scheduled to really start pulsing until late afternoon, and while at daybreak things had improved considerably on the reef, the sky had other ideas. Sporatic downpours and variably winds only added to the pressure. But by 10:00am skies were clearing, the swell was most definitely on the rise and Egan called for the event to start at 11:00.

When people start slugging beers at 11:00 and floundering about on kayakes, boogie boards, stand-up paddle boards and basically any other thing you can think of that will float, chaos is bound to ensue.

By the time Andy Irons and Joel Parkinson took to the water for the first quarterfinal of the day, there was no doubt the swell was on its way, and in stark contrast to every heat surfed up until this point, Teahupoo had returned to its normal, throaty self and only extended tube time would get the requisit scores needed to get through to the finals. Parko, surfing a smooth as ever took early control of the heat, and while Irons would make a late charge, the Gold Coast local would never relinquish the lead. Next on tap was former finalist Damien Hobgood and rookie upstart Jeremy Flores, who only days before had handly dismantled eight-time world champ Kelly Slater. Originially scheduled to be in Bali, Flores never really found his feet, and Hobgood, who like a lot of his Florida brethern is no slouch in the heaving lefthander, found the biggest set waves and deepest tubes. In a tight heat Mick Fanning slipped past the wiley Luke Stedman who was enjoying the contest of his life. And contrary to what everybody watching both from the channel and online expected to happen, tour rookie Kai Otton dismissed former Teahupoo winner Cory Lopez, who all contest looked like a certain favorite for the final.

As the swell continued to build the madness in the channel only increased. Unlike other danger waves, say places like Pipeline, it’s incredibly easy for specators to sit on the fringes of the reef and look straight into the pit. This is both a blessing and a curse. In one way those fortunate enough to be out in the water get an extremely first-hand account of all that’s going on, almost as if you’re in the pit with the surfer. On the flip side, when people start slugging beers at 11:00 and floundering about on kayakes, boogie boards, stand-up paddle boards and basically any other thing you can think of that will float, chaos is bound to ensue. And as the swell shifted more west, and boats and bodies were lured closer and closer to the lineup, Luke Egan was prompted to assemble his crack staff of water patrol and try to reign in some of the madness.

Surfing in the first semifinal, Parko and Hobgood were set to square off in a heat that promised to be slightly more than interesting, but Hobgood, by now well on a roll, walked away with it, scoring the highest heat score of the contest up until that point. But then along came Mick, who’s spent a considerable amount of time at Teahupoo over the course of the last month. And while his semifinal matchup against Kai Otton appeared close from the start, Fanning, much like Hobgood was on to much of a roll to let anybody, especially a rookie, slow him down. On one wave, he took off deep, double-pumped through several different barrel section and came flying out behind the spit, which resulted in the only perfect 10 of the contest, and uped the antie for the highest heat score of the event.

By this point the audience had reached a fever-pitch, and in the 30-minute break between the semis and final, about 40 brave souls darted out into the lineup for a chance a glory. Raimana Van Bastolear, riding a stand-up board, took off on a significant set wave, decided to go switch-stance halfway through the ride, and was promptly hurtled off his board, his leash snapped, his board washed in over the reef and the water patrol buzzed in to pull him out.

Clearing the lineup as quickly as possibe, the final was set, and with the swell continuing to build, it was bound to be a smoker as both Hobgood and Fanning were eager to get things under way. And deliver they did, trading wave for wave, Hobgood started things off with a solid eight-point ride, Fanning countered with a nine-plus. It would go back and forth like this for the entirety of the 35-minute final, and in the waining minutes Hobgood needed a score of an 8.5 to overtake Fanning, and with priority on his side, he charged into the first wave of a solid eight-foot set, got the score and one would assume he rode off into glory. Ah, but they’re called sets for a reason, and Fanning picked off the wave behind it. Unfortunately for the current ratings leader the wave as bit shorter and he wasn’t able to work the same magic he had throughout the rest of the event. In the end Hobgood took the final by less than half a point in a final that has to be considered the best of the young 2007 WCT thus far.

But there was much more to be learned from this contest than the mere fact that Damien Hobgood is as good as any other Floridian at Teahupoo (i.e. Kelly Slater, Cory Lopez and his brother C.J. Hobgood, all of whom who have won the event). If you paid any attention at all you’d have recognized that this year’s rookie class is ridiculously talented, and as of right now, two sit in the top ten in the world, and we also learned that on any given day, even the best surfers in the world, guys like Slater, Burrow and Irons, can be upset. Right now, today, here in the 2007 season, we may be looking at the most talented crop of surfers to ever go on tour. For those who fancy themselves Fantasy Surfer afficianados, you may have to start rethinking your strategies all together.

With the Fiji contest off this year, we’ll see you in a month in Chile.

1. Damien Hobgood
2. Mick Fanning
=3. Joel Parkinson, Kai Otton

Current Top 10:
1. Mick Fanning
2. Taj Burrow
3. Damien Hobgood
4. Joel Parkinson
5. Bede Durbidge
6. Kelly Slater
7. Andy Irons
8. Michael Campbell
9. Jeremy Flores
10. Kai Otton