2007 Billabong Pro Tahiti: Pandora’s box is open

Cory Lopez is riding Bruce Irons's board, Joel Parko's riding Andy's, AI's riding Parko's, and one by one, they're catching waves and trying to switchfoot.

It's this morning, 10am, in the water at Teahupo'o, and back at Contest Central on the beach, people are running around in circles trying to reassess, re-organize, re-book – re-do everything, in fact, now that the Billabong Pro has opened the Pandora's Box of an extended waiting period.

"Now we just sit back and start burning hundred-dollar bills," Billabong Australia's head of marketing, Andrew Flitton, says amusedly. Behind Flitto's disarming grin lies a pile of detail. If the surfers feel mildly discomfited by the change, everyone else involved here is having to spin wheels like madmen. The sound guys stand in the front yard of Andrew's house on the point, trying to imagine how they're going to pull hundreds of thousands' of dollars' worth of gear off the lagoon tower, on dusk, then pack it in time to make a plane at 2am next day.

Other people, media and officials, are committed to a flight tonight and will leave prior to the arrival of the heavy southwest groundswell that's caused all this last minute drama and set up a potentially epic finale to a thus-far tough and wickedly competitive event.

The media crews had gathered like nervous cattle at sunrise outside Flitton's house, where the eight remaining surfers were due to meet and decide the event's fate. The surfers wandered casually in and out, trying not to talk about what they'd chosen to do: go on hold until 10am, and make a final call right then.

But the fact that they're all out here playing in the tiny warm waves, right when the call's supposedly being made, is a indication of what's really gone on.

Only one surfer had made a serious attempt at dissension. Jeremy Flores, the 18-year-old supper-rookie who'd knocked Kelly Slater out of the contest, said he had a commitment in Bali. But he accepted the majority call.

The other newcomer quarterfinalist, Kai Otton, was blunt: "I'm a rookie, so I just keep my mouth shut," he told SURFING. "Basically, I'll do whatever happens."

"You couldn't have made any other choice," Cory says, while he awaits another mini-Chopes set wave. "We've spent all these years trying to get the tour to happen in good waves and make the sport look good in the process. It's only gonna mean bigger things for next year."

A boat pulls up in the channel, and Kai jumps into the lineup. "10:30am start!" he yells. "Let's go!" The others laugh at him and splash water. 10:30am start, maybe … in two days' time.

Nick's Predict-o-meter

Joel Parkinson vs Andy Irons
Here is a hell of a statistic for you sports fans. Joel and Andy have met eight times in WCT events. Joel's won five of the encounters, Andy's won three. BUT! Five of the eight times they've met during an event, the guy who comes out on top has gone on the win the whole contest. (Andy's done this EVERY TIME he's beaten Parko.) This suggests that the pair bring out the best in each other, and whoever's sharp enough to win their heat is more than sharp enough to win the contest. I think AI will take it and go on to victory.

Damien Hobgood vs Jeremy Flores
Jezza might surprise us, but Damien in six to eight foot Teahupo'o … that's a gnarly mountain to climb. Gnarlier than a less-than-interested Mr Slater. Hobbity D is the only surfer who might trouble AI after the clash with Joel. He'll win this one and lose by a hair in the semis.

Mick Fanning vs Luke Stedman
Mick now stands unchallenged at the head of the ratings thanks to the losses of Taj Burrow and Bede Durbidge yesterday. Luke has an underdoggy sort of motive and is in an extremely positive state of mind. It seems like madness to call any heat against Mr Fanning right now, but we're gonna give Luke even money on this one.

Cory Lopez vs Kai Otton
Cory's been wonderful to watch at this event, pulling his socks way up and really ripping into one of his favorite waves. In bigger Teahupo'o he needs no introduction and he's got a really nice board for the likely wave size. But he won't want to leave Kai with priority; Otton is a big strong guy with plenty of charging Aussie rock death reefs under his belt and a good quiver too. Cory with the edge, to go on and make the final and share the glory with his buddy Andy.