It’s Teahupoo, folks! There’s no talking this one up. This one speaks for itself. With a booming voice that drives fear into the heart of strong men.
Yes, there will be 34 strong men waiting to take on the beast, but most will be hoping the swell does not deliver like it did last year. We all remember the day the contest was put on hold. No arguments that time. Although, I do vaguely recall saying over the rim of a beer glass, “They should change the rules so that whoever is willing to take off first, advances.”
The thick curved wall of wave makes it a colosseum. And the savagery and gladiatorial duels that take place within the bowl is the closest surfing gets to being a blood sport. It’s true heroics in the most classic sense. Bravery at its most raw. Where your own mortality is on display, and failure is laced with pain. We’re just a few togas and an emperor’s thumb short of a proper Roman circus.
Who can forget Travis last year, putting his body on the line for his career? “Put Bruce in Chopes”, tweeted JOB. While there may have been good reasons for and against his inclusion, Travis’s gutsy performance culminating in a third place cancelled that argument. While ‘passion’ is something usually reserved for traditional sports like rugby or football, watching Travis that day was all soul and as inspiring as any medal-winning performance you may have seen in recent weeks. There was a hunger to his surfing that usually only shines in the eyes of the big-wave greats. He really wanted it. He really, really wanted it.
The butcher’s bill was impressive too. Jordy cracked his ribs, but slightly less photogenic, Dusty Payne also needed 14 stitches in his knee. A full 20 of the 34 competitors were assisted by the medical team. A sweatshop does less stitching in a day. The reef saw more bare skin than you would find in a girly mag. Thankfully, human flesh is more resilient than foam and fibre-glass, because no amount of intensive care could have saved those broken boards. No-one bothered to count them. This year, Parko has brought 20 boards – that’s like five boards for the full range of possible conditions, and then 3 spares of each because boards break at any size out there.
But, looking towards the longer run it’s still quite early days and they’re only just coming out into the back straight. Fanning is in lead position, with Parko and whatisname… some bald guy… just a nose behind. Adriano is a head further back, with Taj and John John at his flanks. Josh Kerr, is at his heels, and then, sadly, daylight begins to open up between the contenders.
Jordy, is 2000 points adrift of Kerr and has work to do if he wants to get back in the race. 2000 points isn’t much considering a win nets you 10000. But you have to get consistently good results and hope that the others around you slip up, and looking at those other thoroughbreds around him, it will only come with effort, smart surfing… and a bit of luck.
Travis sits precariously in 24th. He needs to find that hunger again. He hasn’t had a performance like that since. We know he’s capable if he can light that fire in himself.
At time of writing, Brazilian Ricardo Dos Santos had just won the Air Tahiti Nui Von Zipper Trials, with Tahitian local Alain Riou snagging the second wildcard for finishing runner-up. Matt Bromley was invited to surf in the trials once again, but couldn’t find the waves which would have seen him into the main event and up against the top seeds, namely Kelly, Mick or Parko. Knowing Matt, he’ll be just as stoked to sniff out another nearby reef pass going below-sea-level – which are a dime a dozen in Tahiti – and then charge that.
The good news is that there’s a good long period swell arriving on the opening day of competition, which should see 5-6 foot conditions, if a bit stormy. This wave is all about the barrel. There’s very little else to it except maybe a carve out on the shoulder. This makes it tricky to predict results. As tour leader Mick Fanning will tell you, “At a venue where one big barrel can turn a heat, there’s always going to be upsets. So the biggest challenge is making sure you’re on the best waves in the heat and you get yourself nice and deep in that barrel.”
Catch the live action at http://billabongpro.com/tahiti12 from the 16th. Tahiti is twelve hours behind, so it’s from Wednesday evening for us here.