18 August, 2015 18 August, 2015

Gabriel Eliminates John John at Billabong Pro Tahiti

Just eight heats of the Billabong Pro Tahiti were contested in clean three to five-foot conditions at Teahupo’o on Monday (17 August), before organisers put the rest of Round 3 on hold due to inconsistent surf brought on by the high tide. But even though the schedule was shortened, the action was intense – none more so than the battle between reigning Chopes champ, Gabriel Medina (BRA), and John John Florence (HAW), who made his return from a long injury layoff.

Gabriel Medina faced John John Florence in the most entertaining heat of the day.

While the Hawaiian appeared happy to sit and wait for a good one, Gabriel started the faster of the two by catching three waves before John John had a sniff. They weren’t great scores though, with a 4.67 the best of the trio – not enough to pile on the pressure. Or maybe it was, because JJF then caught his first wave and was unable to make it out of a pinching tube, before Gabriel got an incredible pit on the wave behind for a strong 9.07 score.

John John answered back quickly with a 7.77 to ensure his requirement dropped to single figures (needing a 5.98 to take the lead), then it was Gabriel’s turn to blow one, when he side-slipped down a hollow face for a wipeout. Gabby caught two more mid-range scores before JJF pulled into and got spat out of his highest scoring ride of the heat – a 9.57 – to put himself into the lead.

John John rode this one perfectly for a 9.57 score that put him into the lead.

The Hawaiian scored a 9.07 on his next ride to heap even more pressure on the reigning world champ, before a flurry of three 9-point rides by both competitors around the 10 minute remaining mark saw Gabriel edge the lead with a 9.27 and a 9.73 for a 19.00 total. John John backed his 9.57 up with a 9.27 of his own for an 18.84 total, which left him needing a 9.44 to regain the lead. The heat wound down, however, with no more meaningful opportunities presenting themself for the Hawaiian phenom.

“I was really excited before the heat but kind of scared too,” said Gabriel to Rosy Hodge in the post heat interview. “John John is one of the best out here and he’s my favorite surfer. That was a good battle and we both got a few nines. I’m stoked to get barreled, the waves were amazing and it’s great to make one more heat. I knew it would be a tough heat though and my dad told me not to worry about high scores, just to focus and keep doing what you’re doing. It’s good to be making heats again after a lot of loss at the beginning of the year. I love this wave and I’m looking for a good result here.”

Owen Wright moved on to Round 4 with a convincing win in Round 3 Heat 3.

Standout from the other Pacific island leg of the Dream Tour in Fiji, Owen Wright (AUS) was the other top-scorer from the short day of action. The Australian started his match-up with an excellent 9.13 to put pressure on his opponent, Dusty Payne (HAW). With Dusty unable to post an excellent score of his own until the heat was winding down, Owen would have been comfortable to sit and wait for another bomb. But he chose a different tactic and caught a number of waves – including a solid 7.03 – before he locked into another epic tube to score a 9.10 for a strong 18.23 heat total, which Dusty had no answer for. Owen moves into non-elimination Round 4, where he’ll be up against Filipe Toledo (BRA) and Kai Otten (AUS), who took out Brett Simpson (USA) and Bede Durbidge (AUS) respectively in their heats to advance.

Mick Fanning had a chance in Heat 7 to claim the rankings lead on the Jeep Leaderboard when Adriano de Souza (BRA) lost in Heat 6 to wildcard Bruno Santos (BRA), but the Australian 3-time world champ was unable to get the better of Aritz Aranburu (ESP) and was eliminated to remain 250 points behind in second place. Julian Wilson is yet to surf his Round 3 heat, but the Australian lies third in the rankings and will leap-frog both Mick and Adriano into the yellow jersey spot if he manages to get the better of CJ Hobgood (USA) in the last heat of the round.

Brazil’s Wiggolly Dantas rode some epic tubes to advance to Round 4.

Brazilians Italo Ferreira and Wiggolly Dantas were the other winners in Round 3, when they beat Jadsen Andre (BRA) and Matt Wilkinson (AUS) respectively to move on to the next round.

Stay connected to worldsurfleague.com for the call when Round 3 will resume, which will see Josh Kerr take on compatriot Ace Buchan (AUS) in the first heat (Round 3 Heat 9), before Kelly Slater (USA) takes on Sebastian Zietz (HAW) in Heat 10. Following that will be Jeremy Flores (FRA) against Joel Parkinson (AUS), with the aforementioned clash between Julian Wilson and CJ Hobgood closing out Round 3.

Heat reviews, photos and video highlights from the Billabong Pro Tahiti can be viewed on worldsurfleague.com.

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