Six-time world champion Kelly Slater (USA) today added the Gotcha Pro Tahiti title to his illustrious list of career victories. Slater took on Hawaiian Shane Dorian in the final, but out-classed his close-friend to claim his 22nd World Championship Tour (WCT) event since he started competing on the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) in 1991.
Slater, 28, entered the Gotcha Pro Tahiti as a wildcard entrant, having decided to spend some time away from competition over the past two years. Nonetheless, his performance this past week at Teahupoo offered no signs of diminished talent. He surfed the infamous break with complete control, also posting the highest total heat score of the day during his semi-final against current world champion and defending event champion Mark Occhilupo (Aus) (25.60 to 19.75 points).
During the 35-minute final Slater picked off the best rides and found deeper tubes, as well as performed more critical maneuvers in the clean 3-4 ft conditions. He and Dorian both rode their first rides switch-foot (with their right legs forward, instead of left as usual), however, just as they had in the last man-on-man final they surfed against each other back in 1992 in Australia’s premier junior event. All fun aside, Slater got down to business and convincingly dominated the finale (25.55 to 20.25-points).
“The wave’s kind of pulsed for the final,” he began saying once he’d paddled over to the media boat. “I’d noticed for my last couple of heats that the second waves of the sets were a little hollower, with a cleaner face, so with Shane having priority pretty much every time and taking the first ones, I just lucked into three really good ones. They were pretty much the best waves that came in.”
“First off I would like to dedicate this to Briece (Taera), the guy who passed away surfing out here. It really hits home when a surfer anywhere in the world dies, but at a place that’s so intense and everyone has thought could take a life, it’s sad for it to happen. I mean, there’s never a good time for it. So I’d like to say to his family my condolences and I hope there’s some good in it, somewhere. We’re all thinking about him here. And thanks to Teahupoo. It’s a really challenging wave… today wasn’t as challenging as it gets, but it was really fun. Thanks to all the Tahitian people.”
Dorian, who finished 1999 in 11th position, was rapt with today’s second placing, especially since his start to the 2000 season has been far from ideal, finishing 33rd and 17th respectively, in the first two events. His 9.80 ride against current rating’s leader Sunny Garcia (Haw), however, during their round four match-up this morning, turned out to be the highest of the day, and got the ball rolling.
“The final went alright for me if I didn’t have a guy that was getting 9’s and 9’s and 9’s,” joked Dorian afterward. “It just seemed like I wasn’t really in rhythm. My waves would just be decent, then I’d turn around and he’d be in a sick barrel. It was just his heat. There’s not much you can do when that happens.
Occhilupo, 33, who has also suffered a slow start to the year leading up to Tahiti, admitted he was trying a little too hard against Slater in their heat, having never beaten him before. His equal-third placing, however, is no doubt is a great confidence boost to his world title defense.
“I didn’t feel too good out there, I think I was just trying too hard again,” he reasoned. “So many times I have surfed against Kelly now and haven’t beaten him, and it felt like that could have been a good chance. I think I was a bit over-amped, and wasn’t relaxed like my other heats. I’m fully stoked though, I’ve got back on track.”
Also finishing third was Australian Luke Hitchings, being defeated by Dorian. Hitchings, 23, who finished last year rated 26th, has now moved up into eighth position on adjusted points after today’s result.
“The waves were pretty good in that heat,” he said. “But I sort of got out of rhythm and fell off on a good one and Shane just took over. He totally annihilated me, but whatever, I’m stoked (laughs). It’s a great result for me and I was feeling really happy with my surfing. I’ve just been in a good mood, so I think everything was falling into place for me.”
Official Results of the Gotcha Pro Tahiti Final Day
1st K Slater (USA) US$15,000
2nd S Dorian (Haw) US$8,000
=3rd L Hitchings (Aus); M Occhilupo (Aus) US$4,000
=5th C Hayes (Haw); L Egan (Aus); M Campbell (Aus); C Lopez (USA) US$3,000
=9th Y Sodre (Brz); N Hedge (Aus); B Bourgeois (USA); S Garcia (Haw); G Herdy(Brz); CJ Hobgood (USA); B Emerton (Aus); F Padaratz (Brz) US$2,300