Words by Nick Carroll
Photos by Jeff Flindt
Can I tell ya? I am soooo fricken stoked.
Not because the Billabong Pro has finally started, after seven very pleasant yet ultimately rather meaningless days of flat fun in the Tahitian sun. Not because the Great 32 Cutoff provided an elegant heat source under what might otherwise have been a lukewarm kinda day of frolicking in four-foot, super fun Chopes.
No, I am stoked because though I have been watching these gigantic pro events for what seems a generation, still things happen that I do not understand.
Like Marco Polo beating Bobby Martinez.
What the hell was that about? Marco Polo is a really nice person and he's a good surfer at a certain level. But he is the sorta surfer whom the whole system overhaul, the reduction to 32 ranking seeds which will surely change the nature of the ASP Tour forever, seems to have been invented to eliminate. He is not in Bobby's class.
Yet still Bobby, the defending champion, contrived to find a way to lose to Marco. While his opponent bum-dragged and fought his board through every turn, Bob failed to find his range on barrel after barrel. In trying to find a 10, he racked up a splendid succession of 2s.
It was horrible yet magical, the kind of cosmic joke on the whole concept of surfing skill that you almost never see these days at this level of competition. But who knows? We may well see more of it at this event, where the 45's back markers are fighting for their lives and doing things in the process they've rarely or never pulled before.
When was the last time Luke Munro won a first round heat? Nate Yeomans? Blake Thornton? The answer to the latter is never. Blake is seeded 44th, right next to Marco. Now they're all in Round 3 and swinging for the fences, knowing that without a finals finish here, they're fucked.
It's too early to be delivering any major calls here at Chopes. For one thing, who knows how long it'll stay overhead? But two surfers definitely won't win. They are Taj Burrow and Bede Durbidge, who burned together on the fire of local knowledge at the hands of Manoa Drollet and Heiarii Williams. Those two know every bump and ridge of Teahupo'o's reef, and it'll take the command and strength of this event's big guns to knock them off the pace.
And who are those big guns? Hmmm, Ok. Freddy P's ripping. Super in touch with his board. Dane isn't ripping, but he will. Kelly Slater is surfing like a semi-finalist. Owen Wright is surfing like a finalist. AI might do almost anything; he's sharper now than he's been since he re-entered the game.
But Jordy Smith is leading the world rankings, and Jordy looks like he is enjoying this role immensely. Some people get the ratings lead and sorta lose the plot; it's as if they don't believe it's their natural place in the scheme of things. By contrast, Jordy came out and on his first ride kicked out what he [Editor’s Note: wrongly] calls a Judo air, a sort of Superman with boot. It scored a seven-plus, but the score didn't matter. What matters is that Jordy's enjoying himself.
And once this event's attention swings away from the Great Cutoff and back to the world title race, that's gonna count for something.