With the swell at peak height, reigning World Champion Mick Fanning and Dion Atkinson got off to a slow start as the ocean took a breather.
At the 18-minute mark the set they were looking for arrived. Atkinson took a huge drop and rode out the rolling giant, notching a 9.50. After a brutal spill, Fanning managed a midrange five on the answer.
With six minutes remaining, the rookie found a backup score, dropping into a dark barrel and emerging with the spit for a 7.00. The biggest day in history concluded with one of the biggest upsets.
“It feels bloody good,” Atkinson said of his win. “I’m surfing for my survival, and these guys for the title. I’m out there to win it, and I’m stoked I did, and got barreled in the process.
“I’ve got the lineup more dialed now,” he added. “Took a few days of floggings even though it wasn’t big when I got here. I’m stoked to be putting it together. ”
Result: Dion Atkinson, 16.50, def. Mick Fanning, 5.94
Heat 11: Owen Wright (AUS) vs. Matt Wilkinson (AUS)
Owen Wright announced himself as a force to be reckoned with when he made the 2011 Billabong Pro Tahiti Final against Kelly Slater. He lost the event, but his tube-riding skills weren’t lost on anyone. Three years later, those skills were on display as he did battle against fellow Aussie Matt Wilkinson.
Wright was on fire from the start, dominating with steep drops and clean exits for a combined 17.43 with fewer than 15 minutes left. Wilko lagged by a wide margin with 1.33. The tally left him in a difficult combo situation, in which he needed two new scores to catch up. He caught another wave but couldn’t stall enough to make the barrel.
Wright bettered his position with a crowd-pleasing 9.43, while Wilkinson took off on a few softer waves, which didn’t move the needle.
“It’s really dreamy,” Wright said. “It’s just too hard not to have the biggest ball.”
Results: Owen Wright, 18.36 def. Matt Wilkinson, 5.36
Heat 10: Kelly Slater (USA) vs. Jadson Andre (BRA)
With the crowd roaring on the massive swell, 11-time World Champion Kelly Slater put event standout Jadson Andre to the test, notching a 9.00 off the bat for tucking into a tight barrel, muscling out ample tube time. His next go-around would offer an easier ride, a hollow no-grab racer toward the channel. Slater hit three nines — back-to-back-to-back — in the opening 10 minutes of Heat 10.
In astounding fashion, Slater finished the heat with five nine-point rides. Andre, having ridden just as many waves, was left needing two new scores for a fighting chance.
“It’s like a crazy high,” Slater said after the heat win. “I’m trying to quell it right now, and let it simmer.
“This is probably the best I’ve ever surfed Chopes,” he continued. “It’s just big enough for that outside ledge to go hollow. I would say it’s almost safe out there. … [It's] taller seas, but shorter intervals. Chopes doesn’t like that 18-second interval, and this is 15 or so. This is where it gets beautiful.”
Result: Kelly Slater, 19.44, def. Jadson Andre, 6.43
Heat 9: Nat Young (USA) vs. Kai Otton (AUS)
Aussie Kai Otten and Nat Young got off to a high-scoring start with a pair of eight-pointers in the goofyfooter faceoff. But Otton took what was arguably the deepest barrel of the event, earning a Perfect 10 and taking the lead.
Young soon reminded the judges why he was named 2013′s ASP Rookie of the Year. He perfectly executed a steep takeoff for a nine-pointer and that nearly closed the points gap. With fewer than five minutes on the clock, Otton had the win by a mere 0.11 points, with Young needing a 9.05.
He found a set wave, going deep in another tube and hoping that the score would tip the scale — but he didn’t get the number he needed.
“I don’t know if you can have a strategy with Nat,” Otton said. “This contest is pretty pivotal to my career. I’ve had some good moments but I wanted to back it up finally.”
Results: Kai Otton, 8.17 def. Nat Young, 8.06
Heat 8: John John Florence (USA) vs. Sebastian Zietz (AUS)
John John Florence, known for being a huge threat at Pipe, opened his Round 3 cool and casual. Standing tall in a double-overhead tube, he logged an excellent 8.77 on his first wave. A larger set wave gave him a 9.67 while Sebastian Zietz struggled to find solid rides.
As Seabass found his first keeper — a 6.60 — Florence charged through another barrel for a near-perfect 9.93. Zietz found a deep barrel ride for a nine-point score of his own, but John John’s early heroics negated the effect.
The last set of the series looked favorable for Zietz when he dropped into a heavy barrel for the fourth nine-point ride of the bout, but behind him was an unstoppable force, notching the event’s first Perfect 10.
“I just went out there, I didn’t think it would be this big,” said Florence. “To actually be on the spot for a couple sets was really fun. This wave is a crazy take off, it almost looks like a closeout. I just started pumping and rode the foamball and hoped for the best.”
For his part, Zietz had a different take. “It sucks seeing John John in your heat draw, especially if you’re at Chopes. … I hope he takes it for Hawaii.”
Result: John John Florence, 19.93, def. Sebastian Zietz, 18.50
Heat 7: Joel Parkinson (AUS) vs. Brett Simpson (USA)
As Tour veteran, tube guru, and No. 2 on the rankings, Joel Parkinson had a distinct advantage over his younger, less experienced opponent. But Brett Simpson despite sitting at No. 34, was coming off of his first heat win of the season which likely helped his confidence.
In the first few moments, Simpson took a fall against the reef, and lost precious time getting back to the lineup. He quickly made up for it with two high-scoring waves, taking the lead over Parkinson after a deep barrel.
Parko tried to better his scoreline in the dying seconds for a mid-range 7.17, but it wasn’t enough to keep him in the game.
“He goes as hard as anyone,” Simpson said. “It’s almost like when the waves get better it’s easier for me to focus on what you need to do.”
Results: Brett Simpson, 16.23 def. Joel Parkinson, 13.17
Heat 6: Gabriel Medina (BRA) vs. Nathan Hedge (AUS)
The SSW swell arrived just in time for one of the most anticipated heats of the day. World No. 1 Gabriel Medina and charging wildcard Nathan Hedge traded nine-point rides early on, with the Brazilian gaining an edge with an excellent 8.93 backup score.
Hedge, who had the only ten point ride of the event to that point, lost a bit of momentum when a crushing wipeout left him battling the turbulent white water. In the meantime, Medina continued to drive through the double overhead barrels with astounding confidence. The Brazilian notched a backup nine-point ride with 10 minutes remaining. His near-perfect heat total carried him through to Round 4.
Result: Gabriel Medina, 18.80, def. Nathan Hedge, 13.44
Heat 5: Bede Durbidge (AUS) vs. C.J. Hobgood (USA)
One of the longtime veterans of the WCT, No. 17 C J Hobwood needed a good result at Teahupo’o to put him further from the bubble. In Round 2 he got the first pass-through of his career, sending him straight into his next matchup without the stamp of approval that would typically come with surviving a sudden-death heat.
At No. 14, Aussie Bede Durbidge was just a few spots above his Heat 5 opponent, but similarly needed some points padding to push his standings. While Durbidge maintained a narrow lead, the pair had close scores throughout, with small waves but expert stalls and exits.
In the final moments, Hobgood took what was arguably the longest tube of the heat to tie the total scores. But at just a 6.43, it wasn’t enough to top Durbidge’s highest wave score, an 8.17, for a crushing loss. (Note: In accordance with the ASP Rulebook, in the case of a tie, the surfer with the highest single-wave score wins the heat.)
“I thought he was going to get a two,” Durbidge said of Hobgood’s last-ditch effort. “He turned a two into a 6.40 so it was a long two minutes waiting for the score to come out. It’s good to make it through. I want to get some big barrels tomorrow. I’m over the moon right now.”
Results: Bede Durbidge, 13.10 def. C.J. Hobgood, 13.10
Heat 4: Kolohe Andino (USA) vs. Mitch Crews (AUS)
Teahupo’o was pumping by the time Kolohe Andino and Mitch Crews hit the water. The initial exchanges saw the rookie gain a slight edge with two midrange scores on the board.
Andino built momentum up throughout the heat, culminating in an excellent 8.87 at the 18-minute mark and a 9.23 moments later. His resulting 18.10 heat total was insurmountable.
“I was here for a week before the event started, and you start to trust yourself and trust your lineups,” said Andino, of his apparent comfort at the break. “Just trying to push myself. Both my waves I thought were closeouts, but I felt I should go because those are the ones you can get eights and nines.”
Result: Kolohe Andino, 18.10, def. Mitch Crews, 10.17
Heat 3: Michel Bourez (PYF) vs. Aritz Aranburu (ESP)
As the only Tahitian on Tour, Michel Bourez felt the most pressure, perhaps, at Teahupo’o. Ranked No. 5, he’s among the best on the WCT but has generally faltered at his home break. Aritz Aranburu’s Round 2 heat, meanwhile, was one of the best of his career and he was coming in to Round 3 with confidence.
After a few exchanges, Bourez took a narrow lead and retained it for most of the heat. Aranburu, trained on the hollow waves of Northern Spain, was nearly flawless. The difference between their scores was mostly due to wave selection, with incremental differences and a paddle battle that gave Aranburu priority. But the ocean didn’t cooperate, and Bourez retained first place.
“As soon as I paddle for a wave I can hear the crowd going nuts,” Bourez said. “I saw his wave, it was a really good one, but mine was a clean exit. I thought he was going to get close but he’s not going to get it.”
Results: Michel Bourez, 14.90, def. Aritz Aranburu, 14.77
Heat 2: Josh Kerr (AUS) vs. Adrian Buchan (AUS)
With the swell filling in, the heat 2 surfers went on the hunt for incoming bombs. Josh Kerr (AUS) took a more aggressive approach, jumping on smaller set waves, while defending event champion Adrian Buchan (AUS) was more selective, taking his chances on larger waves that failed to become true scoring opportunities.
Buchan’s patience paid off when he scored a 9.00 in the final 10 minutes of the heat, overtaking the lead by a large margin. Kerr improved his bottom score to a high seven-pointer but was unable to match the score needed to regain the lead.
“I have a couple big days coming up, I’ve been surfing heaps,” said Buchan. “[Being defending champ] has given me the extra motivation I’ve been struggling to find this year. …We’ve got a great forecast. I’m going to enjoy every moment, and try to surf some great heats.”
Result: Adrian Buchan, 16.33 def. Josh Kerr, 14.73
Heat 1: Taj Burrow (AUS) vs. Tiago Pires (PRT)
Perennial World Title bridesmaid Taj Burrow faced off against WCT wildcard Tiago Pires. After a restart, Pires took the first wave at the horn, earning a solid 7.50 and putting Burrow on the defense.
Burrow answered back with a solid drop, but it earned him a 6.17, keeping him in a defensive role. Throughout the heat Pires continued to grab wave after wave, with scores that put him well ahead of his veteran opponent. A combined 9.00 and 9.67 gave him one of the highest heat totals of the event so far, and one of the best heats of his career.
“I love this wave and it’s been a few years since I got a result here,” Pires said. “I was hoping for a good wave and I was pretty selective and it happened. It’s safe to say this is my first good heat of the year so I’m really psyched.”
Billabong Pro Tahiti Round 3 Results (1st to Round 4, 2nd finishes Equal 13th):
Heat 1: Tiago Pires (PRT) 18.67 def. Taj Burrow (AUS) 13.57
Heat 2: Adrian Buchan (AUS) 16.33 def. Josh Kerr (AUS) 14.73
Heat 3: Michel Bourez (PYF) 14.90 def. Aritz Aranburu (ESP) 14.77
Heat 4: Kolohe Andino (USA) 18.10 def. Mitch Crews (AUS) 10.17
Heat 5: Bede Durbidge (AUS) 13.10 def. C.J. Hobgood (USA) 13.10
Heat 6: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 18.80 def. Nathan Hedge (AUS) 13.44
Heat 7: Brett Simpson (USA) 16.23 def. Joel Parkinson (AUS) 13.17
Heat 8: John John Florence (HAW) 19.93 def. Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 18.50
Heat 9: Kai Otton (AUS) 18.17 def. Nat Young (USA) 18.06
Heat 10: Kelly Slater (USA) 19.44 def. Jadson Andre (BRA) 6.43
Heat 11: Owen Wright (AUS) 18.36 def. Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 5.36
Heat 12: Dion Atkinson (AUS) 16.50 def. Mick Fanning (AUS) 5.94
Billabong Pro Tahiti Round 4 Match-Ups (1st to Quarterfinals, 2nd and 3rd to Round 5):
Heat 1: Tiago Pires (PRT), Adrian Buchan (AUS), Michel Bourez (PYF)
Heat 2: Kolohe Andino (USA), Bede Durbidge (AUS), Gabriel Medina (BRA)
Heat 3: Brett Simpson (USA), John John Florence (HAW), Kai Otton (AUS)
Heat 4: Kelly Slater (USA), Owen Wright (AUS), Dion Atkinson (AUS)