Billabong Pro Tahiti: Round 4

Thirty six hours ago Kelly Slater was happily dancing away at the Teahupo’o Surf Club benefit night.

Yesterday he got waxed by a WCT rookie. Jeremy Flores, 18, from Madagascar via Reunion via Australia via France via the World Qualifying Series, shut Slater out of the Billabong Pro here with a performance worthy of the Champ himself.

Flores’s brief day as the world tour’s Invisible Grom ended in this heat, during which he walked Kelly around the lineup and even subtly persuaded him to catch a half-cocked wave while in possession of wave priority – the sort of thing Slater usually does to his victims.

Not many observers had really believed Jeremy when the grom had said a day before, “I’m not worried about Kelly, I’ve surfed against him plenty of times.” They’ll believe him now.

They’d better. Jeremy now stands right in the center of this event’s immediate future. Monday is its last official day. This morning the remaining eight surfers will vote whether or not to extend the waiting period by two days, to accommodate a bombing southwest groundswell due at Ground Zero Chopes on Wednesday.

“Can I make my vote now?” Flores asked yesterday afternoon as he climbed into the channel control boat. “I have to leave (tomorrow night).”

Let’s see if he can hold his line against not just Kelly, but the other seven surfers – including Cory Lopez, Damien Hobgood, Joel Parkinson, and an outlandishly in-form Andy Irons … guy who, you’ve gotta feel, would bend heaven and earth to see a final in eight-foot pits.

It was one of those days at Chopes, a day when the teeth and claws were out and competitive adrenalin at a dramatic high, despite the just-overhead conditions. Not many escaped unscathed. Not Luke Stedman, conqueror of defending champ Bobby Martinez, who showed dazzling form on a board he’d borrowed from buddy Tom Whitaker. Luke made the quarters, but hacked his feet up on the dry-reef closeout section in the process.

Not Taylor Knox, who surely baffled even himself with seven consecutive takeoffs-to-wipeouts against Lopez during perhaps the best surf of the day. At a contest where last year he shone to a strong third place, Tay suffered a defeat that will long haunt him, while ol’ Lopey carried on where he’d left off against Occy the day before.

Marvelous surfing came from Damo, who executed masterfully in bumpy early afternoon surf to crush Adrian “Ace” Buchan – another of the in-form WCT rookies who’ve been busting out all over No-Tube Chopes.

After an earlier win over Bruce Irons, Ace cracked us up when he spoke of his training program. “I’m focused on task-oriented skills development, not so much the outcomes,” he said, deadpan. Crikey! Here’s a id with a surf industry future!

AI wouldn’t have known what Ace was talking about. When he’s on fire, Andy’s not so much task-oriented as a force of nature, and he opened his round four heat against Pancho Sullivan with a ride of shocking intensity, throwing a railslide hack, a five-yard sideways floater, a freakish little barrel and a 360 air into the space of 10 seconds. He and Parko will meet in quarterfinal one, and the winner of that exchange will surely be the favorite – whether we wait till Wednesday or not.

Billabong Pro Quarterfinal Match-Ups:
Heat 1: Joel Parkinson (AUS) vs. Andy Irons (HAW)
Heat 2: Damien Hobgood (USA) vs. Jeremy Flores (FRA)
Heat 3: Mick Fanning (AUS) vs. Luke Stedman (AUS)
Heat 4: Cory Lopez (USA) vs. Kai Otton (AUS)

Billabong Pro Tahiti Round 4 Results:
Heat 1: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 15.00 def. Michael Campbell (AUS) 11.24
Heat 2: Andy Irons (HAW) 14.44 def. Pancho Sullivan (HAW) 13.93
Heat 3: Damien Hobgood (USA) 15.17 def. Adrian Buchan (AUS) 13.00
Heat 4: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 13.{{{57}}} def. Kelly Slater (USA) 10.87
Heat 5: Mick Fanning (AUS) 14.87 def. Chris Ward (USA) 3.83
Heat 6: Luke Stedman (AUS) 11.40 def. Bernardo Miranda (BRA) 6.17
Heat 7: Cory Lopez (USA) 17.66 def. Taj Burrow (AUS) 17.50
Heat 8: Kai Otton (AUS) 13.77 def. Bede Durbidge (AUS) 13.27

Billabong Pro Tahiti Round 3 Results – Heats 8-16:
Heat 8: Kelly Slater (USA) 15.17 def. Gabe Kling (USA) 9.50
Heat 9: Mick Fanning (AUS) 15.43 def. Troy Brooks (AUS) 13.77
Heat 10: Chris Ward (USA) 15.40 def. Dean Morrison (AUS) 15.30
Heat 11: Bernardo Miranda (BRA) 16.33 def. Tom Whitaker (AUS) 4.83
Heat 12: Luke Stedman (AUS) 16.66 def. Bobby Martinez (USA) 13.27
Heat 13: Taj Burrow (AUS) 17.20 def. Victor Ribas (BRA) 9.57
Heat 14: Cory Lopez (USA) 16.53 def. Taylor Knox (USA) 1.84
Heat 15: Bede Durbidge (AUS) 15.93 def. Rodrigo Dornelles (AUS) 14.94
Heat 16: Kai Otton (AUS) 15.96 def. Daniel Wills (AUS) 15.17