"I really hope there are barrels. I feel like this is not too much to ask of the universe. I’m just a girl standing in front of the ocean asking for barrels."
In late July, Carissa Moore posted a clip from last winter. In the video, she’s deep in the barrel on a clean day at Pipe. In the caption she said her boards were already packed for Tahiti. Her flight wasn’t for another ten days. She was that excited to surf Teahupo’o.
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Over the past few years, Carissa has made backside barrel riding her project. The first time the women competed at Cloudbreak she said it scared her. Now, she’s surfing Pipe. Not big, unruly Pipe just yet, but she’s riding legit barrels at Pipe.
Carissa’s success in surfing has come from her non-stop determination to improve her surfing and the ability to actually do it. Carissa’s world number one for a reason, though Tyler Wright is damn close to overtaking her. Caity Simmers has a similar talent to Carissa for learning new tricks. Sometimes, it feels like Caity can shape-shift her surfing in the space of a heat or two. Wild.
Here’s your women’s Teahupo’o preview, because we can’t let the boys have all the fun. There’s a final five spot and Olympic selection in play — and maybe if we’re lucky, some barrels. The waiting period starts tomorrow. Let’s take a look.
Before we get into it, let’s talk about the rule book again — and specifically Olympic qualifying. You know how I feel about the rule book. But here we go: Olympic qualification is determined by rankings at Trestles. I thought it was after Tahiti, but I was super wrong about that part. Trestles does count, so the Brazilian men’s selection may be in play on finals day. On the women’s side, it’s not likely to change anything.
For the women, the main source of suspense on the Olympic qualifying front is the battle between Lakey Peterson and Caity for the third spot on the U.S. women’s team. I’m assuming that CT rankings determine who gets the third spot on the U.S. team — and I’m not entirely clear on that detail. There are too many details, it seems!
Back to Teahupo’o. Last year Courtney Conlogue won ahead of Brisa Hennessy. Finals day in 2022 featured scattered barrels, onshore winds, and mostly small conditions. This year’s forecast, well…. do we really want to know? Okay, okay, I’ll be honest with you: It doesn’t look good. It looks small and windy. Sometimes, it’s better not to know before you go.
There’s only one spot in the final five in play for the women. Currently, Caity is just over 3k points ahead of Lakey who is in sixth. The gap between them is just close enough to make it interesting, and Lakey has a realistic shot at this one. It’s a battle between experience and raw talent, and I’m not sure who will come out on top. Steph, meanwhile, is in seventh roughly 4k behind Caity. That’s a pretty big ask for Steph, especially at a left.
There are only four heats in the post-cut opening round on the women’s CT. The next iteration of the WSL, whatever that looks like, needs to change this aspect of the Tour. There are far too few opportunities for women to compete, especially with the young talent flooding into surfing right now. The draw should have an equal number of men and women. Slim down the men’s tour, drop the cut, and equalize the draw between men and women. This is the future.
Bettylou Sakura Johnson is out with a shoulder injury. She says on Instagram that she tore her labrum at J-Bay. She’ll have surgery to repair that thing and hope to be ready for this winter’s shenanigans. Aelan Vaast replaces her in the draw.
Let’s look at some heats. It’ll be fun, maybe!
The opener gives us Molly Picklum, Caity, and Gabriela Bryan. Molly and Gabriela are feisty as fuck, and I love watching them compete. I’m not sure Caity’s ever surfed Teahupo’o and she finished ninth at Pipe. Caity needs to make heats if she wants to hold her top five, so it should be interesting to see what she does here. Molly and Gabriela just want to win. The ocean permitting, this should be a good one.
I did not know that Tati West could barrel. I feel like I have mostly seen her going straight at Pipe. Yesterday she posted a very nice clip at Teahupo’o and I must eat my words. They do taste good!
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Tati meets Carissa and Aelan Vaast in the second heat. On paper, I’d call this one for Carissa, but a local wildcard at Teahupo’o is not the same as a wild card at your average beach break comp. A regular foot, Aelan looks sick in the barrel and will potentially give the CT girls a run for it. I’d love to see Carissa and Aelan go at it in good waves. Too bad we can’t have nice things.
Local girl Vahine Fierro made the semifinals last year. A goofy-foot, she’s an easy favorite to win here — and medal at the Olympics. She has an intuitive grace in the barrel and has ridden some solid-sized waves over the past year. She just missed making the CT for 2023, so she’s no slouch as a contest surfer either.
Vahine faces a pile of world titles in her opening round heat with Tyler Wright and Steph Gilmore. Neither Tyler nor Steph are known for their backside barrel riding, and all the world titles in the world won’t make up for that at Teahupo’o. Vahine should win this one for a fast track to the quarterfinals.
The final heat is a veteran’s party with Caroline Marks, Lakey, and Johanne Defay. I’d call Caroline the favorite here. She’s posted some beautiful clips from Teahupo’o and seems to have a confidence here that she so far lacks at Pipe. Caroline finished ninth at Pipe this year, and didn’t look especially motivated there. Based on her clips this week from Tahiti, Caroline’s looking good so far.
Lakey is fighting for her spot in the top five and making this heat would go a long way toward helping her cause. Last year, Lakey lost in the quarterfinals to eventual finalist Brisa. Johanne loves to go left and always brings it, but she’s struggled to find her rhythm since returning from injury.
I really hope there are barrels. I would love to see these heats go down in glassy, dreamy Teahupo’o. I feel like this is not too much to ask of the universe. I’m just a girl standing in front of the ocean asking for barrels.
Bring me your barrels!
As a postscript: I’m donating my fees from this story to the Hawai’i Community Foundation to assist with Maui fire relief efforts. Maybe you’d like to donate, too.