Tuesday 5th May 2009 (Teahupoo, Tahiti): With one wildcard spot up for grabs for next weeks Billabong Pro Tahiti, 32 international surfers have matched up against 32 Tahitians on day one of the Air Tahiti Nui VonZipper Trials at Teahupoo.
In clean 1.5-2m waves, it was the overseas challengers who dominated opening day proceedings as competition moved from round one, through to heat four of round three.
Former world tour competitor Bruce Irons (HAW) showed why he is regarded as one of the most dangerous surfers at Teahupoo by winning through two trials heats and booking a spot in the third round. (the final four heats of round three are yet to be surfed)
Having not surfed a competitive heat since 2008, Irons grabbed a last ditch tube ride in his second round heat to scrape through behind proven Teahupoo specialist Damien Wills (AUS). Eliminated from the heat were Tahitian duo David Dandois and Heifara Tahutini.
"I haven't surfed a heat for seven months, the first time since high school I 've had that sort of break, but watching Bells and Snapper over the internet made me want to pull a rash vest on again," said Irons. "Every time I came here to surf the main event the trials were pumping, so I figured I'd quit the tour and come do the trials, hasn't really worked out that way yet though."
"It was really slow out there, but Tahiti's always nice to get away to, so I'm not complaining."
He will now face Nick Vasicek (AUS) Niuhi Marere (PYF) and Heremoana Luciani (PYF) in round three. Should he win the trials, he will surf alongside Brother Andy, who has been given a direct wildcard into the main event.
Fellow Hawaiian Mark Healey was another standout performer on the opening day, winning through three rounds to progress into the final 16 surfers. A perfect display of small wave tube riding in his round three heat saw him take an impressive victory over live-wire goofy footer Clay Marzo (HAW), eliminating Tahitian surfers Steven Pierson and Germain Tuataa.
Hawaiian surfers excelled on day one of the VonZipper Trials, with six surfers still in contention for the wildcard slot into the Billabong Pro. Joining Irons, Marzo and Healey to progress were Kamalei Alexander, Reef McIntosh and Kalani Chapman.
Australian surfers also fared well on the opening day with the Sunshine Coast duo of Wade Goodall and Mark Visser both winning their round three match-ups.
The 2008 trials at Teahupoo left Goodall with 8 staples in his head after a nasty encounter with the reef, but his opening day in 2009 proved friendlier, winning through three heats in fine style.
"I've only got one cut so far, I'm normally good at hacking myself up, but it hasn't got that big yet," said Goodall. "Every heat has been really hard today, on the high tide it was pinching a lot and not really tubing, but it was better later this afternoon on the outgoing tide."
"There are so many good surfers in this event, now that the numbers have been cut down from 80 to 64, everyone in it is really good at surfing Teahupoo, there are no walk through heats in this contest."
Fellow Australians still in the event include Nick Vasicek (Gold Coast) and 2008 semi finalist Damien Wills (Copacabana).
2007 trials winner and 2008 Billabong Pro runner up Manoa Drollet progressed unharmed through his opening heat of competition, posting a comfortable win over Ricardo Santos (BRA), and compatriots Jean-Claude Rota and Teiva Mare in round three.
In conditions that were virtually identical to the final of the Billabong Pro last year, the top seeded Drollet used smart barrel riding to easily win through to the final 16 surfers.
"It was just like the final of the Billabong Pro last year, it was slow, but still some little waves," said Drollet. "I am feeling good, but it all comes down to who gets the best waves, especially here at Teahupoo."
The Tahitian spectators were given another reason to celebrate late in the afternoon with local hero Alain Riou progressing into round four behind Australian Mark Visser.
The fast surfing goofy footer threaded a deep tube ride late in the heat to scrape into second and eliminate compatriot Marama Darrouzes and Australian hot-shot Julian Wilson.
"It wasn't easy but it was a lot better than this morning," said Riou. "I was expecting some great barrels but it didn't really happen as I planned, it was a slow heat but I got two good waves and made it through."
"For the Tahitians this is their one big time heat all year, their chance to get known by the outside world so they feel like they have a lot to prove," he said. "Tahiti is a long way away from the surfing world and they definitely feel like they have a chance to show themselves, it is a great event for the Tahitian people."
The Air Tahiti Nui VonZipper Trials will finalise tomorrow, Wednesday 6th May. The winner will be awarded a wildcard to face the top 45 surfers on earth when the Billabong Pro Tahiti main event starts on May 9. A full list of today's results can be found at this link billabongpro.com/tahiti09/results.php. Be sure to stay tuned to transworldsurf.com for full coverage of the Billabong Pro Teahupoo, plus a backstage look at Tahiti with the Cote brothers.