COOLANGATTA, Australia (Thursday, Apr. 23, 2008)–The next stop on the 2008 ASP World Tour, the Billabong Pro Tahiti pres. by Air Tahiti Nui, could commence sans its defending champion Damien Hobgood (USA).
Hobgood, who was free-surfing at the upcoming contest venue of Teahupoo on Monday, April 14, 2008, hesitated on an eight foot set wave, got caught on the lip and was subsequently piledriven onto the razor-sharp reef. He fractured his shoulder in three places, suffered a gash to the head and shredded his back on the coral.
“I knew I was going over,” Hobgood said. “I got pushed straight onto the reef. I knew I had hit hard and hit my head. I was trying to stay conscious and not fight it but also not blackout.”
Hobgood returned home to the USA for medical attention, and on the outside chance that his shoulder heals before the third event on the 2008 ASP World Tour commences, has not officially withdrawn from competition.
The Billabong Pro Tahiti waiting period stretches from May 8-18, 2008, with competition generally held on the four best days of surf during that window. Hobgood could have close to a month to recover before his next heat.
“I am still hoping to make Tahiti,” Hobgood said. “If I can paddle, the injury is not in that critical of a spot, so if there is any way that I can surf, I will be there.”
The harrowing, lefthand reef break of Teahupoo has had its way with him before. Hobgood dislocated the same shoulder halfway through his 2005 Billabong Pro Tahiti final against 8X ASP World Champion Kelly Slater (USA). Slater went on to surf a perfect heat (recording the only 20 out of 20 posted in ASP World Tour history), and win the event for the third time.
Hobgood defeated Reigning ASP World Champion Mick Fanning (AUS) in the 2007 Billabong Pro Tahiti final to join his twin brother C.J. Hobgood (USA) and fellow Floridians Slater and Cory Lopez (USA) on the hallowed winner’s roster. The only non-American to win the event was Mark Occhilupo (AUS) in 1999.
Fanning’s 2007 second place finish was a huge result given his previous performances in Tahiti. The reigning world champion arrived early last year after exiting with a 33rd (last place) in 2006. The extra time in the lineup served him well and the current No. 3 will arrive early again this year.
“I’ll go a few days early again as it is a really good time there,” Fanning said. “I love the place and the family I stay with are amazing.”
Fanning’s title defense has been thwarted by Slater’s back-to-back victories in the first two events of the year, but with his recent marriage and a multitude of media obligations behind him, Fanning is eager to make up ground at Teahupoo.
“Kelly had an amazing start and I had a lot of things happening,” Fanning said. “Really good things, but I have finally had some time to myself and I feel really excited about competing again. I’m looking forward to Tahiti. It is always a great event.”
The Von Zipper Trials will decide two of the three wildcards who will compete in the Billabong Pro Tahiti. Eighty surfers are slated to take on Teauhpoo from April 26-30, with the 1st and 2nd place finishers joining Manoa Drollet (PYF) as wildcards into the main event. Current swell forecasts indicate that the trials will be held in solid surf.
The Billabong Pro Teahupoo will be webcast on www.aspworldtour.com and www.billabongpro.com.
Past Billabong Pro Tahiti Champions:
2007: Damien Hobgood (USA)
2006: Bobby Martinez (USA)
2005: Kelly Slater (USA)
2004: CJ Hobgood (USA)
2003: Kelly Slater (USA)
2002: Andy Irons (HAW)
2001: Cory Lopez (USA)
2000: Kelly Slater (USA)
1999: Mark Occhilupo (AUS)