SEVEN-time Foster's ASP Men's World Tour champion, Kelly Slater (USA) is out to break another record.
Should Slater win this weeks Billabong Pro Tahiti at Teahupoo he will have conquered the last milestone still standing before him – the record for the all time number of event wins currently standing at 33 and held by three times world champion Tom Curren (USA).
The Billabong Pro Tahiti played an integral part in Slater's 2005 world title after he scored a perfect 20 out of 20 in last years final for victory over Damien Hobgood (USA).
On the same day, he also rode what has been called the greatest wave ever ridden in the history of the ASP, freefalling into a seemingly impossible tube ride, to be spat into the channel and mark a turning point in his '05 competitive year.
The 34-year-old has won two from two events on the 2006 ASP World Tour and hasn't given any clear indication of his long-term commitment to securing world title number eight, but has confirmed an all out assault on Teahupoo.
“It's a huge honor to win here,” said Slater. “It's an honor just to be in the event.”
“It's a special contest to take part in for the rush, the challenge and the unknown,” he said. “There's an energy like no other spot we surf, even Pipe.
It's a totally unique surfing experience.”
A true test of elite competitive surfing, winning Teahupoo rates among any pro surfer's lifetime highlights and it is this temptation that Slater indicates as being motivation to return.
A former three-time Billabong Pro Tahiti winner, the natural footer admits thriving off the often vocal crowded channel, contributing riding the right equipment as being paramount to performing well at the treacherous break.
“It could get huge and it puts us all on the line in front of the closest crowd,” said Slater. “It helps you to surf on an unconscious level where you're surfing for everyone out there.”
“I believe you can best ride any barrel on the shortest board possible,” said Slater. “I try to ride something that allows to fit the curve.”
The first round will see Slater surf against Brazilian surfer Paulo Moura and dangerous Tahitian rookie Heiarii Williams who won a wildcard via the Air Tahiti Nui/Von Zipper trials.
With Slater holding a commanding 768 point ratings lead over his nearest rivals Taj Burrow (AUS) and Joel Parkinson (AUS), the WCT top ten, the 2006 tour rookies and renowned Teahupoo chargers will be looking to reel in some points come May 4.
Two times Tahiti champion Andy Irons (Haw), who is regarded by his professional peers as generally the man to beat at Teahupoo, will need to overcome sickness in the coming days should he wish to put an end to Slater's two event winning streak.
“Right now I have a head cold, so I'm not feeling that good,” said Irons. “I'm glad it's looking like we might have a couple of days off here before it starts. I'm just going to try and relax, get healthy and prepare myself for the event.”
“Every contest is important,” said Irons. “I have had a slow start with a couple of fifths so a win here would really help me out.”
When the waves reach 8-10ft (3-3.5m) Irons is in a league of his own, his ability to thread massive backside tube rails without touching the rails of his board a skill only a few on tour can master.
Should the swell reach the thunderous size which Teahupoo handles best, Iron's will be well placed for a third event title,” he said.
“Kelly's got two firsts but it's a long year ahead of us, but it would be nice to win here for sure.”
For West Australian Burrow, the Billabong Pro Tahiti has featured heavily in his campaign of results of the past years. Known for his flare and ability in beach and point break set-up's, Burrow reached the semi finals in 2005 and finished runner up to Slater in 2003.
Currently rated second after returning from injury, the 27-year-old has his own approach to tackling Teahupoo.
“You have to be hungry to get the meanest barrel ever,” said Burrow. “You have got to be prepared to spit blood to do well.”
“To get a 10 or a huge ride you just about have to get the beating of your life, but still get spat out.”
“When it's 8-10 foot you just have to go,” said Burrow. “You've got the best rescue team in the world right there by your side and that makes you feel pretty safe.”
“It's one of the thickest waves in the world, it comes out of such deep water and just unloads on dry coral reef, it's the ingredients for an exiting ride and a super dangerous place to surf.”
Burrow has drawn trials semi-finalist, Hawaiian Danny Fuller in his opening round one heat, along with fellow Australian Luke Stedman. Fuller was a late inclusion into the Billabong Pro Tahiti draw following the withdrawal of Australian Adrian Buchan.
“To win here, you have to surf it as good as Kelly and the best guys,” said Burrow. “When Kelly won it last year, he was so high on confidence that the stuff he was doing was just out of this world, I just try to imagine myself doing that.”
The official opening ceremony took place in the Teahupoo square today, Tahitian dancers welcoming competitors, visitors and competition officials.
The men and women's main events are scheduled to begin on May 4 with all the action live on www.billabongpro.com and www.aspworldtour.com . The waiting period will finish on the May 16.
Top 10 Foster's ASP Men's World Tour ratings going into the Billabong Pro Tahiti:
1. Kelly Slater (USA) 2400
2. Taj Burrow (AUS) 1632
3. Joel Parkinson (AUS) 1632
4. Bobby Martinez (USA) 1476
5. Andy Irons (HAW) 1464
6. Taylor Knox (USA) 1332
7. Greg Emslie (ZAF) 1200
7. Pancho Sullivan (HAW) 1200
9. Mick Fanning (AUS) 1142
9. Damien Hobgood (USA) 1142
Visit www.aspworldtour.com for more info