Day one, Tahiti: “Filipe ground to dust!”
Filipe Toledo's title hopes shot. Jordy squeezes out of a hole.
News from the East, sire. Dawn breaks. The sky takes notes when we speak and Teahupoo whimpers to life. Conceptually, and as a sporting spectacle, the fire and fury of J-Bay was always going to be a hard act to follow. Maybe impossible. Impossible for surf writers too, and I think a fresh approach, experimental even, is called for.
The mental sloppiness of J-Bay has to be replaced by clarity so in deference to the missing presence of the greatest Teahupoo surfer ever, Kelly Slater, and the great and glorious backer of pro surfing Dirk Ziff, it’s time to go clear.
No booze, no drugs of any kind (even legal pharmaceuticals). Nothing ingested except the fruit of the tree, the fish and fowl slain by my own hand. I’m sure Andy would approve.
And the words of the greats to guide us. Someone mentioned Witzig, Kampion maybe Hynd, maybe Rottmouth? We take their words and feed them into a random generator, voila, automated surf writing.
Is this legal? It is the future. Algorithms will make surf writing extinct in this generation and if I can help write the obituary, so much the better. Look for the double asterisk. **
It was heat five before a decent tube was packed in anger. Or nonchalance. JJF packed it nicely for a pair of sevens. The only true rivalry in pro surfing? JJF vs Portugese meat and potatoes surfing. The Hobbit and the Wolf are his kryptonite.
Who here has paddled out at Teahupoo? Surfed it without a sponsorship? As a recreational surfer, a donkey? Not you, Kelly. Allow me to guide. We begin the journey on foot, opposite the harbour a mile or so from the end of the Road.
Which way to go? Left, or right? Let’s ask a couple of day drinking fishermen wetting a line in the small mangrove lined lagoon next to the harbour. They speak no English. French or Tahitian only.
A toothless man pulls a warm bottle of Hinano out of a gunny sack filled with beer and offers it over. Without wishing to offend local hospitalities Shearer, née Longtom, accepts and using a proferred bait knife levers off the top. The danger in accepting beer from day drinkers is not having to drink warm Hinano, which is gaseous but not offensive, or getting glassy eyed and impaired before paddling out for a maiden surf at Teahupoo.
The danger is that the drinkers are now impossible to pass without sharing hospitality. And my liquidity is questionable because the little debit card I bought from Australia doesn’t work, so I am racking up a daily beer debt to the gatekeepers of the harbour. It will end with Longtom giving the shirt off his back – a Bob Dylan/Joan Baez Don’t look Back tee-o in organic cotton – to a 250-pound ladyboy friend to clear the debt. We digress.
We are walking the narrow road left, to the south-west towards a setting sun, past neat houses with bouganvillea hedges and roosters and chickens in every yard. Under shady trees rest big fucking dogs, mastiff and pit bull crosses lazily eyeing off chickens and pedestrians. Of which there are few in this heat of the afternoon. It reminds of Kahuku or some other sleepy windward Hawaiian village.
The road ends in a cul-de-sac encircled by ramshackle restaurants and fun houses. Coke signs, plastic chairs, red and white plastic table covers. A large Polynesian man expertly butchers a bull mahi-mahi with a twelve-inch blade on a fillet table in front of a smoking grill.
Looking seaward into the sun and the wave is impossible to see. It is below sea level and out and to the left, way past the reef pass proper. A blast of spit blown up into the tradewinds is the most obvious sign.
Where do you paddle from? Here or over the little creek which has a bridge across it?
There are children playing in the creek, in clear running water. Might as well jump in and start paddling seaward, out to the pass. Without a boat and with a beer buzz, it’s a long way. Maybe thirty minutes in Shearer stops, sits up and looks back at the mountains. Staggering.
Silently weeping, he paddles on, a changed man.**
Outside the lagoon the reality of Teahupoo sets in. It’s not a reef pass, it’s a crack in the reef a quarter-mile outside the reef pass. One paddles up to the wave and wonders what to do now. Catch a wave? Join the pack?
It’s breaking from the west-south-west, a peak that breaks so hard in such shallow reef and grinds into dry reef it doesn’t seem rideable. But it is, because a bunch of cackling pro’s are getting spat of of backlit caverns. Shearer gets pitched, hits the reef, rickrolled and then tip toes off it into the reef crack. As the sun sets finally gets a clean open cave, sucked backwards with the reef below and mountains framed by the falling lip then spat out, gliding over the shoulder. The paddle back across the lagoon in the twilight then the walk home along the road. The scariest thing. The pit bulls and mastiffs are awake now, sniffing for intruders and this whitey smells weird. Like stale beer and fear. Whitey picks up a stick and walks in the middle of the road. There is no traffic, only the sound of a man playing a ukelule and singing a lullaby.
Wilkinson through, JJF through. Medina through. The second most important heat of round two was Jordy Smith v Taumata Puhetini, a man who embodies the Tahitian goofy foot tube-riding technique of burying the arm and digging in like a tick on a bull, holding the wall until the channel. But there are no tubes on this gurgly, scrappy day and Jordy scrapes through.
The most important heat: Filipe vs Ewing. Ewing knocks out Toledo and any hopes for a Toledo title.
This is going to be a grind but there’s no way out when the comp is spit-roasted by a forecast as grim as the prospect of a nuclear war before the winner is crowned.
Still, I feel fine. Don’t know about you.
Billabong Pro Tahiti Round 1 results:
Heat 1: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 10.00, Jadson Andre (BRA) 8.30, Jeremy Flores (FRA) 7.50
Heat 2: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 8.77, Nat Young (USA) 6.27, Bede Durbidge (AUS) 3.63
Heat 3: Italo Ferreira (BRA) 12.50, Owen Wright (AUS) 9.40, Josh Kerr (AUS) 7.57
Heat 4: Joan Duru (FRA) 12.26, Jordy Smith (ZAF) 7.83, Ethan Ewing (AUS) 7.17
Heat 5: John John Florence (HAW) 14.90, Ezekiel Lau (HAW) 10.93, Aritz Aranburu (ESP) 9.37
Heat 6: Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 7.33, Taumata Puhetini (PYF) 7.13, Wiggolly Dantas (BRA) 7.10
Heat 7: Adrian Buchan (AUS) 14.33, Filipe Toledo (BRA) 8.33, Miguel Pupo (BRA) 5.27
Heat 8: Julian Wilson (AUS) 12.77, Conner Coffin (USA) 12.40, Kanoa Igarashi (USA) 10.03
Heat 9: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 14.06, Stu Kennedy (AUS) 8.60, Caio Ibelli (BRA) 6.50
Heat 10: Connor O’Leary (AUS) 13.10, Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) 11.94, Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 10.64
Heat 11: Kolohe Andino (USA) 13.57, Mick Fanning (AUS) 13.43, Jack Freestone (AUS) 11.67
Heat 12: Ian Gouveia (BRA) 15.00, Michel Bourez (PYF) 10.67, Frederico Morais (PRT) 9.56
Billabong Pro Tahiti Round 2 results:
Heat 1: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 11.83 def. Taumata Puhetini (PYF) 9.60
Heat 2: Owen Wright (AUS) 14.50 def. Aritz Aranburu (ESP) 12.10
Heat 3: Ethan Ewing (AUS) 10.06 def. Filipe Toledo (BRA) 6.56
Heat 4: Mick Fanning (AUS) 13.00 def. Josh Kerr (AUS) 8.16
Upcoming Billabong Pro Tahiti Round 2 match-ups:
Heat 5: Frederico Morais (PRT) vs. Nat Young (USA)
Heat 6: Michel Bourez (PYF) vs. Jadson Andre (BRA)
Heat 7: Sebastian Zietz (HAW) vs. Miguel Pupo (BRA)
Heat 8: Caio Ibelli (BRA) vs. Kanoa Igarashi (USA)
Heat 9: Conner Coffin (USA) vs. Stu Kennedy (AUS)
Heat 10: Jeremy Flores (FRA) vs. Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA)
Heat 11: Bede Durbidge (AUS) vs. Jack Freestone (AUS)
Heat 12: Ezekiel Lau (HAW) vs. Wiggolly Dantas (BRA)