Billabong Pro Wildcards Decided As Major Swell Approaches

Local Tahitian surfing legend Manoa Drollet and Hawaiian Liam McNamara have earned the right to pit themselves against the world's best surfers at one of the heaviest waves in the world after securing wildcards into the upcoming Billabong Pro Tahiti (May5-17).

The dredging left-hander of Teahupoo turned on an epic show for three drama filled days as the international field of eighty surfers put it all on the line in what has been the best surfing conditions in the events five year history. Tahitian and Hawaiian surfers used their big wave expertise to once again dominate the line-up, filling all berths bar one from the quarter finals on.

While both surfers entered the glassy line-up for the Air Tahiti Nui/Von Zipper Trials final with Billabong Pro wildcards assured, the spectacle was nothing short of breathtaking as Drollet and McNamara went barrel for barrel in the 2m (6ft) spitting lefts. On the final event siren it was Drollet who came up trumps, claiming the title for Tahiti for the fourth year running.

The 27-year-old surfed each heat with supreme confidence and his semi final triumph over "Mr Pipeline" Danny Fuller (Haw) turned into an epic battle between two of the worlds best tube riders. Drollet, holding priority at the half way point of the 25 minute exchange paddled deep inside for a smaller set, taking off critically late under the lip the natural footer emerged 50m down the reef amidst the screams of his vocal local supporters and earned a perfect 10 point ride.

"I was thinking that anything could happen in that heat," said an elated Drollet. "People have been getting nines and tens all through the contest and I was trying hard to catch a good wave. I am in the trials every year and I almost made it in '99 but since then I always come up short. It hasn't been this good in a long time, I like conditions like that, the last few years they have been bad."

Drollet will have local knowledge of Teahupoo at it's meanest on his side when the main event rolls around from May 5th, having been privy to riding some of the biggest swells ever to break on the shallow ledge.

"I like it when it is big, I think that is what we all want, nice big conditions," said Drollet.

For fellow wildcard winner McNamara the opportunity to match it against the top 45 surfers in the world will be something the 35-year-old hasn't experienced for many years.

"It's been a long time since I have surfed against the guys in the 45 so it will be fun," said McNamara. "Back when I used to surf against those guys there was only really five who had a chance to win at places like this but now the level has got really high. Some of the guys have been coming here for 10 years now so they know how to ride the wave."

The father of three surpassed dangerous opponents on his way through to the trials final ousting 17-year-old Tahitian hot shot Heiarii Williams in the semi's, in form goofy footer Kalani Chapman(Haw) in the quarters and Australian charger Anthony Walsh in round four.

"I never expected to make these trials, you can't expect to make these ones," said McNamara. "I came down here with my family and have been here for nearly three weeks, you're only aloud to stay a month so I have got to go to the customs now and hopefully they will extend my visa so I can do this."

At exactly half McNamara's age, local young gun Williams' key weapon failed him in the semi final. At 17, the natural footer surfs with striking similarity to WCT surfer Bruce Irons (Haw), disregarding the necessity to grab rail at the twisting reef and standing bolt upright with his back to the green tube wall. Williams confirmed his reputation as one of Tahiti's most promising surfers by finishing equal third overall alongside Hawaiian Fuller.

The last of the Australian hopefuls Dylan Longbottom (Gold Coast) and Walsh were eliminated in today's fourth round. After a week of up's and downs, close calls and Monster Tubes, Longbottoms' quest for a Billabong Pro wildcard was dashed by a seemingly unstoppable Chapman.

"I'm here in a beautiful place, had a couple of good heats and to surf Teahupoo with one other guy was awesome," said Longbottom. "I tried my best and had a couple of really good barrels and heaps of good waves so it's fine."

Longbottom will now stay in Teahupoo and prepare his weighted tow boards for a giant 6m swell expected to arrive Saturday and persist until next week. With tow in specialists Shane Dorian (Haw) and Ian Walsh (Haw) en route to Tahiti, and experienced Tahitian/Hawaiian water patrol jet ski operators already on location, the scene has been set for a session of monumental proportions.

"I'm really looking forward to this big swell on the weekend," said Longbottom. "I'm exited to surf with all the big wave riders here like Poto (Vetea David) and Raimana ({{{Van}}} Bastoloae) so I'm just really pumped and want to get a couple of big ones. It's going to be different, but it was good training at Shipsterns, dealing with all the steps that wave has got, Teahupoo is a lot more perfect so I'm hanging for it."

Relatively unknown French surfer Ben Sancho was the surprise package of the tournament stunning many of his big wave opponents with his fearless performance at the left hander. The Hossegor surfer was the only non Hawaiian or Tahitian in the quarter finals where he was eliminated by Williams.

Notable performances in this years Air Tahiti Nui/Von Zipper Trials included Tahitian surfer Kevin Johnson, Pedro Henrique (Brz), Pete Mendia (USA), Tamayo Perry (Haw) Bernado Miranda (Brz) and Michel Bourez (Tah).