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Triumph, Tragedy at Air Tahiti Nui Billabong Pro Trials

August 11, 2014

Tahiti’s infamous reef pass Teahupo’o came to life Sunday as 32 surfers fought tooth and nail in the Air Tahiti Nui Billabong Pro Trials for two wildcard spots in the Billabong Pro Tahiti. The elite Pro contest, which kicks off Friday, August 15, is Stop 7 of 11 on the 2014 Samsung Galaxy ASP World Championship Tour.

Nathan Hedge, Air Tahiti Nui Billabong Pro runner-upAussie charger Nathan Hedge brought his tube skills to Teahupo’o, and scored a wildcard spot in this week’s Billabong Pro Tahiti.

Six-to-eight-foot (2 meters-plus), dangerous barrels exploded on the razor-sharp reef, putting the tube-riding specialists to the test. Tuamata Puhetini (PYF) and Nathan Hedge (AUS) finished first and second, respectively, to win wildcards into the Billabong Pro.

But with the reward also came risk. Kevin Bourez (PYF), younger brother of ASP WCT No. 5 Michel Bourez, suffered a horrific wipeout, going head-first into the reef. The doctor informed event organizers that Kevin is in stable condition, following four hours of surgery from multiple head fractures, as well as deep facial lacerations. He is being monitored closely and more information about his injury and recovery will be available in the next 24 hours. Despite leaving the event in an ambulance, Kevin won the heat and was one of the favorites to win the Air Tahiti Nui Billabong Pro Trials.

Puhetini, for his part, was ecstatic after his big win, repeating the heroics that saw him win the Trials in 2010. He was eliminated by Mick Fanning(AUS) in Round 2 last time he was in the Billabong Pro Tahiti, but he’s still capable of pushing the Top 34 to their limits. At this weekend’s Trials, Puhetini used precision and poise to catch solid sets and thread deep tubes, tearing through the tough field of competitors and securing the coveted win.

“The surf was fantastic today!” Puhetini said. “I can’t believe I won it again, everyone was surfing very well. I won the Trials in 2010 and it was a great experience, and I’m looking forward to taking on the best guys out there in the Billabong Pro.”

North Narrabeen’s Nathan Hedge is one of surfing’s journeymen, a former ASP WCT Top 10 surfer who’s once again climbing the ASP Qualifying Series (QS) rankings. Today’s result will see Hedge get the chance to join his peers again at the elite level, and will likely help inspire him to attack the rest of the year’s QS events with new-found confidence and form.

“It was a day for the Tahitians with Tuamata [Puhetini] taking the win,” Hedge said. “I’m really stoked to have made the Final. I got some of the best waves of my life today, it’s like a dream.

“It’s a big risk coming here for the Trials, there’s only one spot for international surfers up for grabs, and I got it. It was a magical day, this is why we surf. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Bourez family. Kevin loves to charge, he’s an amazing kid and surfer and I’m wishing him a full recovery. May he return to the ocean some time soon.”

The journey won’t get any easier from here as the two wildcard winners will go on to face ASP WCT Nos. 1 and 2 Gabriel Medina (BRA) and Joel Parkinson (AUS) in Round 1. Air Tahiti Nui Billabong Pro Trials winners have a track record of going on to eliminate a handful of the world’s best in the main draw of the pro-level, prestigious competition.

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