Three acclaimed and accomplished surfers that have previously reaped the esteem that goes with a win in the Billabong Pro Tahiti wasted no time in stamping their authority on the opening round of the 2005 edition of the event today. Six-times world champion and twice Teahupoo victor Kelly Slater (USA) produced a typically stellar performance to set the pace for fellow former winners and warriors {{{CJ}}} Hobgood (USA) and Andy Irons (HAW).

All three excelled with controlled and critical surfing in overhead waves that finally whet the wave-starved appetites of the Foster's Men's World Tour Top 45 after nine days of being on standby. All and sundry were stoked to finally be enabled to get on with the job at hand, a relief reflected in an excellent day of surfing.

The terrific trio of Slater, Hobgood and Irons were top seeds in heats six, seven and eight, and at various stages of each respective exchange the champions had their two combatants on the run needing combination scores. The leading margins eventually narrowed in each heat, but their undeniable brilliance gave each of them comfortable wins.

Early, sometimes sparse conditions, improved progressively throughout the day except for a brief period of light onshore winds late morning, a late glass-off on the rising swell giving the Foster's Top 45 just a tempting measure of the conditions that are surely to bless us as we march towards the culmination of the event. Predictions hold for the swell to gradually build over the remaining three days of the waiting period.

This morning's action started at 8.30am and set consistency was an immediate concern, but with four days remaining in the waiting period for three and one-half days of competition, there were no options. Slater's heat with Aussie duo Dean Morrison and rookie Kirk Flintoff was initially one that looked like it would be starved of waves.

"At first I thought it looked like we were going to get skunked and might not even get to catch a wave," said Slater after his heat, which was almost wave-less for the opening half of its 30-minute duration.

Dean Morrison started a run of action with just 13 minutes remaining, emerging from a nice clean backhand pit before carving to dry reef. After having fallen on his first wave early in the heat, Slater stroked into the wave behind Morrison and let his magic loose, capping two insane floaters with a fully committed closeout re-entry on almost dry reef.

On the very next wave, young Flintoff slotted perfectly into a spiralling pit along the reef, though the wave offered little after the cover-up.

"My first scorer was an 8.77, but then, paddling back out watching Flintoff's barrel, I thought he would get better than the 8.5 he was scored," said Slater.

"He got such a nice barrel, but I guess it didn't have much of a wall on it after he came out and he couldn't get any manoeuvres off. When I heard his scores I figured I would only need, in a typical heat out here today, maybe a six, but those guys were getting some pretty good waves. Kirk surfed really well. He was really in tune with it".

Morrison received only a 7.0 for his opening barrel to that triple wave exchange. Critically, if that wave had been surfed on it's own, where barrels had been extremely rare to that point, and without Slater and Flintoff's following waves, he might have scored an 8.5. As the heat progressed though Slater put his foes at a distance, racking up first an 8.0 then an 8.3 to throw away the eight pointer and march onto round three.

Defending Billabong Pro Tahiti champion CJ Hobgood paddled out next thinking his heat would be all about manoeuvres, but the 25 year-old 2001 World Champion ended up finding barrels that lesser mortals would not have realised even existed.

"I got a couple of waves from up the top of the reef and I just wanted to fit in as many turns as I could because I know those backhanders can get them in a little tighter than I can on my forehand," said CJ.

"All of a sudden these couple of waves came in and I started thinking 'Wow, maybe I can get barrelled out here right now. I was stoked".

CJ went on to emerge from several incredibly tight runs behind the curtain eventually counting an 8.6 and 8.03 in his scoreline. One he failed to escape could have been even higher in the points department.

"I would have been stoked to have come out of that one!" said Hobgood. "The whole time in there I was like petting the kitten, moving my hands to keep scooting along because the wave was so small."

"There was about three times on that wave when I thought 'go for the doggy door (exit through the front of the wave's cascading curtain), because it wasn't that big of a wave, and I thought I could punch through, but I didn't."

"Coming to the end though, I could see the reef below, and thought I might be able to come out, but I couldn't," said Hobgood lamenting his failure there, despite moving straight through to round three.

Rather than feeling comfortable leaving his nearest opposition in Australia's Phil Macdonald needing a 9.2, and Renan Rocha comboed, the Hobgood admitted to feeling stressed throughout the exchange.

"Macca only needed a 9.2," said CJ. "We're in the middle of the ocean here in Tahiti and so at any time a four foot wave, or one bigger than any that have come through all day, could come in, and that's a 9.5 easy. I was hunting Macca and keeping an eye on him".

Air Tahiti Nui Von Zipper Trials seed Manoa Drollet tried to engage both Andy Irons and Sunny Garcia in a bit of positional hassle early in the following heat eight. He paddled Irons up the point before the reigning World Champion decided he wasn't going to play games and caught a wave on his belly back to the more logical take-off zone.

Drollet then tried his hand with Sunny, but soon tired of that before moving right up to surf four right-handers at the top of the point. It was strange behaviour from the very respected and accomplished local.

Riding a 6'1" groveller shaped by Gold Coast shaper 'JS' with an ultra concave from nose to tail, Andy Irons soon settled down to the job, obviously stirred on by his World Champion peers. When he let loose on his very first wave he raised hoots of exclamation and appreciation from the packed channel that resembled Waterworld all day long.

Andy's opener was penned an 8.4 for several blinding face manoeuvres. Webcast commentator BJ termed Andy's second bottom to top turn combination "an absolute thing of beauty". Fair comment, though Andy took the compliment on that wave, and his eventual leaving Drollet hunting 8.41, and Garcia comboed, with humility.

"I was pretty lucky on my first wave. It opened up and I got a couple of turns in," commented the three-times world champion, before adding, "I'm just looking forward to the swell, because right now it's pretty slow and small out there".

Andy's Billabong stable-mate Joel Parkinson (AUS) performed an equally impressive demolition of Troy Brooks (AUS) and Drollet's fellow trials successor Liam McNamara in the very next heat.

Strangely, with the exception of Mick Fanning's winning of a wave-starved heat five, and the last heat of the day which saw last year's runner-up Nathan Hedge barrel his way to victory in some of the best waves of the day, the aforementioned heats were the only ones that the top 16 seeds won all day. Just six round one victories from the Top 16 is a very unusual statistic indeed, but such was the day as the ocean ran its own race settling into the forecast swell.

The lower-seeded surfers' push included four Brazilian victories from their seven representatives with Raoni Monteiro making a late comeback in the opening heat of the day, Peterson Rosa somehow surviving a very controversial clash with Luke Egan in the very next heat, Paulo Moura surfing strongly to oust Chris Ward and Neco Padaratz in heat 13, and an impressive display of barrel runs from Marcelo Nunes who got by Cory Lopez and South Africa's Greg Emslie.

Former Teahupoo winner Lopez got deep but also clipped or caught behind. He came back with a sensational pit just seconds before the final hooter, but the judges' eight plus score was just short of what he needed. He'll be back. Emslie's Springbok partner in rookie Travis Logie had some impressive rides but wave judgement cost him in a heat which Hawaii's Kalani Robb ended up bagging reasonably comfortably.

"I didn't have a second scorer," said a disappointed Logie who started with a high seven. "I got one that could have been, quite a good one, but I didn't think it was going to barrel and by the time I realised it was going to, it was too late".

One of the best heats of the day was the showdown between current ratings leader Trent Munro (AUS) and his NSW north coast mate Darren O'Rafferty, with local Billabong wildcard Hira Terinatoofa left a distant third. It was quite a spirited exchange between the Aussies, which included a scrap for a late wave.

O'Rafferty opened up banking an 8.83 for a big four manoeuvre opening run at the seven minute mark. "I was pretty lucky to get that first wave," considered O'Rafferty.

"It allowed me to do three or four good backhand re-entries. A lot of the waves out there were fizzling out, but that one kept walling all the way through".

Munro countered with a 7.33 before O'Rafferty pulled in to yield 8.67 and thereby eclipse Slater's earlier lofty attainment of a heat score of 17.10 with 17.50. Munro came back in the interim with a barrel worth 9.07, but he still needed 8.43 with two minutes on the clock. A paddle battle ensued, with O'Rafferty successfully blocking Munro on a wave that could have turned the scales. Munro was not impressed, but as he knows, there are no friends in the water. The pair exchanged backslaps at heat's end.

Also impressive, as always here at Teahupoo was Bruce Irons. He floated and got repeatedly barrelled like the master he is, ending up with a couple of mid-range sevens in his winning score. Perhaps they could have even been worth more, but he'll presumably be making more of an impression later in the draw.

American Taylor Knox was raging for the California set with one of the highest scores of the day, over a nine, Mick Lowe racked some power moves to move forward rubbing his hands together in expectation of the rising swell, and former event runner-up Taj Burrow also had a good innings, but is looking to dig deeper.

"It definitely gave me some confidence finishing as runner-up here in 2003, but I still didn't think I surfed near as well as I could have back then,"said TB.

"I was stoked with that result, and the confidence it gave me, but I want to do much better. I want to surf it here like the best guys do. It's always good to try to be better".

As mentioned earlier, Narrabeen's Nathan 'Hog' Hedge came storming home in the last heat of the day to pay back the reef for it's indignant treatment of him in last year's Billabong Pro Tahiti when he dislocated his shoulder seven minutes into the final stanza against CJ Hobgood.

Producing an 8.33 with perfect positioning and pace in an early pit, and then an 8.5 towards heat's end for an equally impressive run, Hedge comboed Victor Ribas (BRZ) and Shane Beschen (USA).

Riding the same 6'6" stick that he rode here last year, Hedge also had another run behind the curtain mid-heat, but the lip attempted to behead him as he prematurely stood tall to emerge from the pit. The job would have otherwise have been done at that point. He's obviously looking to follow through and amend last year's result.

"It was nice to get the place back and get the first heat out of the way, "said Hedge back on the event's mother ship the Cascade after his solid victory.

"I've waited twelve months for this and it's a wait off my shoulders to be back in the barrel and coming out of them, as well as to come back to the boat in one piece."

"Being the last heat of the day and getting the afternoon glass-off worked for me. Our heat actually got some of the best waves of the day. Reports are looking good for the rest of the event with the swell on the rise out of the south-west, so fingers crossed!" concluded Hedge, summing up the level of excitement and anticipation that now finally presides over everyone here in Tahiti. The best is yet to come!

The Billabong Pro Tahiti delivered by Air Tahiti Nui is proudly supported by Von Zipper, Bose, Kustom and The Tahitian Surfing Federation.


Heat # 1
3 – Daniel Wills
2 – Bede Durbidge
1 – Raoni Monteiro

Heat # 2
2 – Luke Egan
1 – Peterson Rosa
3 – Toby Martin

Heat # 3
1 – Taj Burrow
3 – Fredrick Patacchia
2 – Shea Lopez

Heat # 4
3 – Damien Hobgood
1 – Michael Lowe
2 – Luke Stedman

Heat # 5
1 – Mick Fanning
3 – Jake Paterson
2 – Tim Reyes

Heat # 6
1 – Kelly Slater
3 – Dean Morrison
2 – Kirk Flintoff

Heat # 7
1 – CJ Hobgood
2 – Phillip MacDonald
3 – Renan Rocha

Heat # 8
1 – Andy Irons
3 – Sunny Garcia
2 – Manoa Drollet

Heat # 9
1 – Joel Parkinson
3 – Troy Brooks
2 – Liam McNamara

Heat #10
2 – Trent Munro
1 – Darren O’Rafferty
3 – Hira Teriinatoofa

Heat #11
2 – Mark Occhilupo
1 – Taylor Knox
3 – Lee Winkler

Heat #12
2 – Tom Whitaker
1 – Bruce Irons
3 – Tim Curran

Heat #13
2 – Chris Ward
3 – Neco Padaratz
1 – Paulo Moura

Heat #14
3 – Richard Lovett
1 – Kalani Robb
2 – Travis Logie

Heat #15
2 – Cory Lopez
1 – Marcelo Nunes
3 – Greg Emslie

Heat #16
1 – Nathan Hedge
3 – Shane Beschen
2 – Victor Ribas

Billabong Pro Live Webcast: via www.BillabongPro.com and www.ASPWorldTour.com each day of the event utilizing live coverage in English, French and Portuguese, with the event websites being translated into these three languages plus, Japanese and Spanish. Various camera angles, highlights and replays, weather and scoring information, direct viewer interaction, celebrity guests, interviews and more are a part of the daily webcast program.