Teahupoo, Tahiti (Saturday 26th April 2008):
The world’s top 45 surfers have been issued a severe warning about what to expect for the 2008 Billabong Pro Tahiti with the world’s heaviest wave, Teahupoo, roaring to life on the opening day of the Air Tahiti Nui – Von Zipper Trials.
The Trials event awards two wildcards into the Billabong Pro main event and pits 40 respected international big wave surfers against 40 Tahitian locals.
Run over a four day waiting period, the precursor to the most watched surfing event on the planet allows the winner and runner up a position in the main event beginning May 8th.
The 2008 Trials event has attracted the cream of progressive big wave surfing talent with the likes of Jamie Sterling (Haw), Kalani Chapman (Haw), Jamie O’Brien (Haw), Cory Lopez (USA), Dylan Longbottom (AUS), Clay Marzo (Haw), Laurie Towner (AUS), Brian Conley (USA), and Anthony Walsh (AUS) making the field the strongest in its nine year history.
A powerful WSW swell confronted contestants on day one, with a light offshore breeze fanning perfect 10-12ft (3-4m) sets with the occasional 15ft sneaker keeping contestants in round one and two on their toes.
Late in the day, the swell jacked to 15-18ft (5m+) prompting competition officials to postpone heats at the start of round three due to dangerous conditions. The waves were too large and too powerful to paddle into.
With the majority of local surfers starting their campaign in round three, it was the international surfers who stepped up to the plate on the opening day, throwing themselves into monster tube rides and life threatening situations.
2004 Pipeline Master Jamie O’Brien, 24, looked right at home over the coral reef, threading through numerous backside tubes to win through two rounds. Casually falling into the biggest set waves, O’Brien defeated Mark Visser (AUS), Carlos Burle (BRA) and Morgan Faulkner (USA) in round one before stepping it up with the highest heat score of the day in round two.
Emerging from two unbelievable tube rides, the natural footer posted a combined total of 17.70 out of 20.00 to defeat Australian Dean Bowen and Tahitian pair Nicolas Leetham and Jody Grosmaire.
During his opening heat, O’Brien was caught inside on a huge set wave and alongside opponent Burle, went over the falls while trying to duck dive through the thick wall. He was smashed in the face by his board, splitting his lip and eye.
O’Brien made a last minute decision to compete in the trials after sizing up the promising swell forecast. He had been recovering from a perforated eardrum at home in Hawaii and originally planned not to attend.
“It has been a great day, I’ve got a fat lip, a sore eye and I’m still getting barrelled,” said O’Brien. “They wanted to take me to hospital, but I was like no way, I spent $5000 on this trip and I don’t get paid in Euro’s.”
2001 Billabong Pro Tahiti champion Cory Lopez (USA), 31, was a rare name in the Air Tahiti Nui – Von Zipper Trials round one having failed to requalify for the elite men’s world tour in 2008. The goofy footer is regarded as one of Teahupoo’s most prolific chargers and proved it in no uncertain terms by winning into the third round.
“I actually made the quarter finals of the main event last year, but I started in the first round of the trials because I have never had to compete in it before.”
“I’ve been coming here for 8 or 9 years and it is only the third time I have seen it this good in competition,” said Lopez. “It’s an honor to be part of the trials and I really want to get in to the main event.”
Two of Australia’s budding junior surfers proved that age is no barrier to courage at Teahupoo today by making it through three heats and earning a position in the fourth round.
West Australian Jay Davies, 21, (Yallingup) and South Coast NSW surfer Dean Bowen (Gerroa), 16, outclassed their opponents from round one to round thhree, posting 8.0 and 9.0 point rides on some of the thickest sets of the day.
Davies, born and bred in the wave rich region of South West WA took to the heaving tubes with no regard to personal safety, despite having only surfed the break twice before his opening heat today.
“It’s amazing how good this place is, it feels like your closer to heaven,” said Davies. “I was saying to one of the lads in the channel that every time you pull into one of these waves, you are praying and praying that you make it out.”
“It’s a dream come true to be here and get waves like this, I just rode the two biggest barrels of my life.”
For Bowen, the second youngest surfer in the trials, 2008 is his second attempt at the Billabong Pro Tahiti main event. With three weeks of practice under his belt in the 2007 trials, the stocky goofy footer’s no pull back approach to the treacherous left-hander has held him in high regard on the score sheet.
The postponement of the third round paved the way for a monumental tow in session late in the afternoon as the swell continued to build toward 18ft+ (5-6m) rendering traditional paddle in surfing useless.
Garrett McNamara (HAW), Jamie Sterling (HAW), Dylan Longbottom (AUS) and a handful of big wave maniacs used PWC’s to ride what was easily the best Teahupoo session of 2008.
The Billabong Pro Tahiti and Air Tahiti Nui – Von Zipper Trials is supported internationally by Air Tahiti Nui, Bose, Yamaha Waverunner, Von Zipper, Kustom and Nixon. The event is also supported domestically in Tahiti by Coca-Cola, Hyundai, Mana OPT and RFO Television.