The final two wildcard positions in event #5 on the Association of Surfing Professionals Men’s World Tour, the Billabong Pro, have been decided with Ricardo Dos Santos, 22, (BRA) and local Alain Riou, 29, (PYF) finishing first and second respectively in the Air Tahiti Nui VonZipper Trials which culminated today in clean two metre waves at the South Pacific reef pass of Teahupo’o.
The pair finished ahead of 30 other international invitees to claim the coveted wildcard spots in the event that is considered the most prestigious of its kind on the annual pro surfing calendar.
Santos, trailed Riou for the majority of the 25-minute decider, but managed the day’s only perfect scoring ride with just minutes to spare. Santos earned a perfect 10-point ride from the judges for a long tube, leapt to the lead, and in doing so became the only surfer in the trials’ 12-year history to claim back-to-back trials victories.
Just the winner and highest placed local are awarded wildcard spots into the Billabong Pro main event and now Santos and Riou will draw the tournament’s highest seeds, namely world number two, Joel Parkinson (AUS) and defending Billabong Pro champion, Kelly Slater (USA).
It won’t be the first time Santos has surfed against surfing’s biggest names, the Brazilian drew Slater in non-elimination Round 1 last year and passed the test with flying colours, defeating the (then) 10-time World Champion and relegating him to Round 2. He also surfed before thousands of screaming fans on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro at stop 3 of the ASP World Championship Tour in 2011.
“To win twice here in Tahiti is a dream. Now I’m in the main event, I will just stick to the same plan. I have been trying to keep myself, not thinking too much, not trying to do anything too special. Teahupo’o is about finding the best barrels, it doesn’t matter if you have Kelly (Slater), or Parko, or Alain. I’m ready, I’m happy, I’m living the dream,” explained Santos.
Like Santos, Riou s also a former trials winner, claiming the division in 2003 and then qualifying for the main event again in 2005, proving that experience counts at Teahupo’o. The local goofy-foot poses a serious threat to all of the main event seeds. Riou lives just ten minutes from Teahupo’o and has surfed the location since he was a teenager. His highest ranking was 26th on the World Qualifying Series Tour.
“Being in the main event is everything, that’s why I went in the trials, but I feel bad about the final. I had priority, I looked at the wave, it was a small wave but barrelled across the reef and I gave it to Ricardo, but that’s done. I’m happy, I feel confident. This is home, I’m ready. I feel good.”
Finishing equal third today and missing out on main event wildcard qualification were Tahitians Tuamata Puhetini (PFY) and former Billabong Pro wildcard winner (2007), Bruno Santos (BRA).
The current forecast calls for similar conditions later in the week, with the main event expected to start as early as Thursday. All the action can be seen live on www.billabongpro.com.
The Air Tahiti Nui Vonzipper Trials was made possible with the support of the Government of French Polynesia, Sports Minister, Institute of Sports, Sports Department, Tahiti Tourism, Air Tahiti Nui, Coca Cola, OPT, Mana, Hyundai, Hertz, Polynesie 1ère, La Depeche, NRJ, City Hall of Taiarapu ouest and the City Hall of Teahupo’o,
Air Tahiti Nui VonZipper Trials
1st Ricardo Dos Santos (BRA) $1500 plus main event wildcard
2nd Alain Riou (PYF) $1000 plus main event wildcard
3rd Tuamata Puhetini (PFY) & Bruno Santos (BRA) $600.
Champions – Air Tahiti Nui VonZipper Trials
2012 Ricardo Dos Santos (BRA)
2011 Ricardo Dos Santos (BRA)
2010 Tuamata Puhetini (PFY)
2009 Heiarii Williams (PFY)
2008 Jamie O’Brien (HAW)
2007 Manoa Drollet (PFY)
2006 Heiarii Williams (PFY)
2005 Manoa Drollet (PFY)
2004 Heimata Carroll (PFY)
2003 Alain Riou (PFY)
2002 Vetea David (PFY)
2001 Bruce Irons (HAW)
BILLABONG PRO – OPENING CEREMONY
The official opening ceremony for the Billabong Pro main event will take place on the point (beyond the end of the road, across the bridge) from 2pm on Wednesday, 15th August.