2007 Billabong Pro Tahiti: Day One

"You shoulda been here, man!" Wish I had a dollar for every time somebody's said that about Manoa Day.

Last week, Manoa Drollet won the trials for this always potentially epic event, getting the ride of the day in surf sooooo freakin' good it made Top Five viewing lists on newspaper websites worldwide.

"The best surf I've ever seen for a contest, anywhere," was event co-ordinator Robert "Bushy" Mitchell's call – and Bushy's seen more Chopes than most.

By now, a decade since pro surfing first visited this extraordinary surf zone, everyone's grown used to those glowing pics of Teahupo'o in spin-cycle mode. But truth is, days like trials final day barely ever occur. Waaay more often, it's like this difficult opening day – bumpy, smallish and irregular, with a swinging wind and a little gem popping up every 20 minutes.

Gazing at the swell forecast for the coming week gives you the distinct impression it's all happening either a week late or a week early.

There weren't no complainin' from the pros. They know the forecast and they got down to business, winning heats in mad sprints or painful, milk-it-to-death wars of attrition, where scores of 4.5 did the job. On a day like this, results tend to rely on backup rides, and under pressure, the judges came up with their best and most accurate day's work of 2007 so far. Acting head judge Dave Shipley ran up and down behind his team, cajoling and reminding them of key ride elements.

Who ripped? Bobby Martinez. Bob won the last heat of Teahupo'o 2006, paddled out for the first of 2007 with a double 17th hangover from Snapper and Bells, and simply took up where he left off last May. Gave 'em both barrels with two barrels. He could win again.

B. Irons. Won his heat on the first wave, a perfectly executed backside barrel. B has a better record here than his illustrious brother, at least in the past four years: a 77% win/loss ratio. Only two surfers have a better record at Teahupo'o, in fact: Bobby, who's won every single heat he's surfed at Chopes, but who almost can't be counted on averages for a year or so yet. And of course, K. Slater, who in those past four years, has won all but two of his heats and averages a finish of … second. AVERAGE.

Yes, he also ripped today. Kelly showed up last night, caught his first wave in his heat, no surfing for two weeks, no warm-up, and scored a 9.5, sending Manoa back to round two in the process. Maybe here he'll finally get Curren's 33-event winning record.

Jeremy Flores. He's an unknown quantity at this level. A curious haze surrounds him, blocking his opponents' sight. They don't notice him till he's suddenly won the heat. This makes him very dangerous because behind the haze of anonymity lurks a real winner. Jeremy won today in unusual fashion, by building a solid lead with good scores, and holding the lead all the way. Very much against the grain of Chopes Day One, when freakish victories fell out of the sky onto guys like Pancho Sullivan – who went from a total hopeless defeat to a stellar 15 point victory in the space of a single set of waves, two minutes before the end of his heat. Or Gabe Kling, the rookie Floridian, still carrying heavy scars from a very bad wipeout five days ago, who somehow whittled his way past Bede Durbidge with a couple of snaps on a closing three-footer.

AI and Parko – who both won without really ripping, at least by their standards – came out to the tower to watch their old buddy Occy tackle their little buddy Dean Morrison. They timed it right 'cause this was the best heat of the day. Occ was fired up and surfing for real after a slow start to '07, but Dean did to him what he did to Andy last year – shot him down on the closing ride by a cat scratch.

Fourteen natural-footers and two goofies kicked it into round three, which given the sudden wobbliness of the South Pacific storm track, may not happen now for a week. This puts the event in the hands of an older pro, who can shrug off the monotony of a long waiting period.

That or someone who's able to stay fired up. Maybe someone like Adriano de Souza. Adriano is amping. Two days ago, as the swell kicked in, I watched Adriano catch almost every single wave in the ocean. At spots like Chopes, people tend to wait in line at the top end of the lineup, but not ol' Adriano. He was paddling round guys like Taj Burrow and Hira Terinatoofa like it was duck shooting season and they were the lures. The big wraps originally on this guy when he qualified 18 months ago have somewhat fallen off, but I suspect he's just been on a bit of a learning curve. Watch him.

Heat 1: Bobby Martinez (USA) 14.00, Trent Munro (AUS) 6.23, Cory Lopez (USA) 4.23
Heat 2: Bruce Irons (HAW) 11.84, Victor Ribas (BRA) 8.22, Josh Kerr (AUS) 7.63
Heat 3: Chris Ward (USA) 12.84, Damien Hobgood (USA) 10.66, Troy Brooks (AUS) 7.34
Heat 4: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 12.33, Tom Whitaker (AUS) 5.96, Neco Padaratz (BRA) 2.60
Heat 5: Gabe Kling (USA) 8.87, Leonardo Neves (BRA) 7.70, Bede Durbidge (AUS) 6.83
Heat 6: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 13.16, Luke Munro (AUS) 8.36, Greg Emslie (ZAF) 7.17
Heat 7: Andy Irons (HAW) 12.50, Hira Teriinatoofa (PYF) 9.67, Fredrick Patacchia (HAW) 6.{{{90}}}
Heat 8: Kelly Slater (USA) 18.17, Manoa Drollet (PYF) 12.50, Phillip Macdonald (AUS) 9.66
Heat 9: Mick Fanning (AUS) 10.44, Anthony Walsh (AUS) 7.67, Raoni Monteiro (BRA) 2.47
Heat 10: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 15.67, Taj Burrow (AUS) 8.50, Bruno Santos (BRA) 5.93
Heat 11: Pancho Sullivan (HAW) 15.93, Shaun Cansdell (AUS) 14.90, Daniel Wills (AUS) 9.50
Heat 12: Ricky Basnett (ZAF) 8.27, Rodrigo Dornelles (BRA) 6.{{{80}}}, Michael Campbell (AUS) 6.26
Heat 13: Bernardo Miranda (BRA) 12.{{{57}}}, C.J. Hobgood (USA) 10.17, Ben Dunn (AUS) 9.14
Heat 14: Travis Logie (ZAF) 13.70, Kai Otton (AUS) 9.80, Dayyan Neve (AUS) 1.30
Heat 15: Taylor Knox (USA) 8.92, Adrian Buchan (AUS) 3.90, Michael Lowe (AUS) 1.44
Heat 16: Dean Morrison (AUS) 15.67, Mark Occhilupo (AUS) 14.33, Luke Stedman (AUS) 9.10