Billabong Pro Tahiti Men’s May 5-17th
Billabong Pro Tahiti Girl's May 5-15th

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THE Billabong Pro Tahiti ploughed through three rounds of women's surfing today in mostly onshore 4-6'+ conditions that were a real test for the ASP Top 17 WCT crew, but the vast majority of the girls rose to the challenge big time. Amidst it all we had three times event champion Keala Kennelly sustaining a major head gash after bouncing off the razor sharp reef, 2004 Rookie of the Year Laurina McGrath having her thigh punctured, and six-times world champion Layne Beachley persevering with a torn medial ligament, but nothing deterred our young ladies of the surf. They were all scared, but they pushed through it.

Hawaii's renowned charger Keala Kennelly was the day's first casualty in heat two of round one when she persevered on the inside of every wave she caught, surfing almost to dry reef – and sometimes literally all the way to it, and onto it. Some might go so far as to wonder if she's a masochist.

"The waves weren't really doing it outside, no open barrels, and so I was working the inside, but I got smashed by that west bowl and went over and felt my head smash against the reef," said Keala.

"I was like 'Damn it!' I could feel it was pretty bad, pretty deep, but I wanted to win the heat and so I went back out and got a good long deep barrel, and nearly came out, which would have been a high score, but it pinched at the end. It was pinching a lot out there."

"The doctors cleaned me up and so I was back out there again. I felt kind of dizzy, but I went back out there."

Kennelly required seven staples to her head wound, but was out amongst the challenging drops and vertical walls of Teahupoo within hours, pressing through her round three heat over Australia's Samantha Cornish like a woman possessed, and into the quarter finals of the Billabong Pro Tahiti.

Reigning world champion Sofia Mulanovich (PER) was outpointed in the heat after Kennelly's round one exchange. Pitched against 2004 ASP Rookie of the Year Laurina McGrath, she came off second best, despite the fact that the young Aussie sustained a substantial gash in her right-hand thigh on her very first wave. She caught three waves, all major drops, before Mulanovich or wildcard Sheridan Sheilds managed to stroke into the swell and get on the scoreboard.

"I'm stoked to have won that heat but I've sort of got a hole in my leg," revealed McGrath after her first round win this morning.

"I don't know whether it was my fin or the reef, but when I got caught on the inside on that first one, I just felt something brush my leg. I didn't think anything of it, but then when I got back out outside, I could literally see blood just coming from my leg. I looked down and saw a bit of a hole there. Now I'm even on both legs," said McGrath, talking of the fact that she is already restricted with a stretched medial ligament on her left knee.

Drawn against Australia's surfing darling Chelsea Georgeson in round three, McGrath had possibly the worst heat possible. Whatever could go wrong for McGrath did just that.

"I've been there before, so I was feeling for Laurina being cut up," said the victorious Georgeson after their exchange.

"Laurina had one of those heats where everything went wrong for her. Her leg was already bugging her, her bandage was coming off, her cut was open, then she snapped her board on the inside, got six waves on the head – so not the best way to start a heat, especially out there at Teahupoo where most things are even harder to deal with."

The vertical walls, dry reef and sledgehammer power and push of Teahupoo have forever been a major test for the girls. Chelsea Georgeson is one of the few that appears to have surfed beyond the mental boundaries of this threatening arena.

"I'm not too scared out there. It's my fourth year here now, and every year, once your first heat or second heat are over, you start to get comfortable, and when the conditions are nice it's actually a fun wave, and you get some pretty good barrels," said Georgeson, casting a refreshingly casual light on the otherwise threatening scenario that teahupoo is for the girls.

"That's what I look forward to – the barrels here. It will probably be windy again in the morning, but I'm in the first heat, so maybe it will still be glassy early," said Georgeson, who is pitched against Hawaii's Rochelle Ballard in the first quarterfinal.

Ballard looked amongst today's most confident, racking the highest wave score of the day, a solid 9.5 for a committed run behind the Teahupoo curtain after waiting for the right specimen to push onto the reef.

"I think it's really important to be patient out here because you can get yourself caught up in the rhythm of trying too hard, and then you can break your board, or get caught on that inside section…stuff can happen," declared the seasoned Oahu pro.

"It's better to be patient out there and look for those waves that are open, and have potential. There's a lot of pulling back on sections where you're not sure whether it's going to throw properly or not. I got a good rhythm early, but it wasn't easy because Bevil' got a few good ones in the beginning. I was like 'Wow!' She was impressive – she's not afraid – well, no, that's the thing – she is, but she's rising above it and turning the challenge into good, rather than letting it overcome her."

The 'Bevil' that Ballard refers to is her round three adversary, Claire Bevilacqua from Perth in Western Australia, a rookie on this year's 2005 ASP Women's WCT, who was a round one standout taking some massive drops this morning, much to the emotional upheaval of her 63 year-old mother Gwenda who was watching from the channel playing board caddie for her pride and joy.

Claire is the youngest of four, a 42 year-old 'accident' as Gwenda revealed, as she squealed and cheered off the side of the pitching lineup.

"I thought I was done after having three sons, but then along came Claire, and what a joy she's been. We're so proud of her!" glowed Gwenda, who is also a grandmother to ten Bevilacqua descendants.

A major upset today was the demise of six-times world champion Layne Beachley (AUS) who was eventually despatched by South African veteran Heather Clark in their round three showdown. Layne became her own judge and jury at heat's end lamenting that she had made a bad choice in wave selection, a problem that has plagued her for years.

"You'd think I'd have learnt after all these years!" declared an indignant Beachley at herself at heat's end. For her adversary Heather Clark, it was a season's bets to date.

"I held back on one or two waves that I should have gone on, and I had one wave that I had a bit of barrel on, and I closed my eyes and fell off, " said Heather.

"It came together in the end, but it was close because Layne got a score that she needed, and then on my last wave, I think the judges rewarded me a few extra points because it was a little bigger wave, and a good drop, or something, but I really only got one turn in, so I'm really happy to get through. They say tomorrow the wind is going to be better, so maybe we'll be able to have a few barrels, which is what we're here for."

The round three heat before Beachley and Clark's could have also been a major upset, world champion Sofia Mulanovich only just surviving a major charge from Billabong wildcard Sheridan Sheilds.

With less than three minutes remaining, Sofia needed a 5.1 scoreline. Sheridan held priority, but let Sofia take a wave out from under her with about three minutes remaining. Sofia took the drop on her delivered wave and pulled in. Flying across the reef under cover she emerged with a double claim to notch 9.22.

"Oh my God, that wave was really sent by God – I'm sure of it," declared Sofia after her tight scrape.

"I was sliding out on every wave – I don't know what was going on – I think maybe I had my fins slotted in the wrong spot. Because of that, I knew I couldn't really turn my board on that wave, so I just went for the barrel and came out and just claimed it three times. I got excited and couldn't hold my feelings."

Most of the girls were overflowing with feelings today but, to their credit, they overrode them. Teahupoo is scarey, but so is the determination and perseverance of the ASP's Top 17 women. Go girls go!

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

(1st & 2nd > Rnd 3; 3rd > Rnd 2)

{{{H1}}}: 1 – Samantha Cornish, 2 – Chelsea Georgeson, 3 – Rebecca Woods
{{{H2}}}: 1 – Rochelle Ballard, 2 – Heather Clark, 3 – Keala Kennelly
{{{H3}}}: 1 – Laurina McGrath, 2 – Sofia Mulanovich, 3 – Sheridan Shields
H4: 1 – Layne Beahcley, 2 – Trudy Todd, 3 – Maria Tita Tavares
H5: 1 – Melanie Redman-Carr, 2 – Megan Abubo, 3 – Melanie Bartels
H6: 1 – Claire Bevilacqua, 2 – Serena Brooke, 3 – Jacqueline Silva

(1st, 2nd>Rnd 3, 3rd=17th place 180 pts usd$2250)H1: 1 – Sheridan Shields, 2 – Jacqueline Silva, 3 – Melanie Bartels
H2: 1 – Rebecca Woods, 2 – Keala Kennelly, 3 – Maria Tita Tavares

(1st > Qrtr finals; 2nd = 9th place, 360 pts, usd$2750)

H1: Rochelle Ballard def. Claire Bevilacqua
H2: Chelsea Georgeson def. Laurina McGrath
H3: Keala Kennelly def. Samantha Cornish
H4: Sofia Mulanovich def. Sheridan Shields
H5: Heather Clark def. Layne Beachley
H6: Melanie Redman-Carr def. Serena Brooke
H7: Trudy Todd def. Jacqueline Silva
H8: Rebecca Woods def. Megan Abubo

Billabong Pro Live Webcast: via 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.