As the world’s best surfers prepare to compete in Tahiti, a crop of the best of the rest prepare to battle for the two remaining spots in the event via the Air Tahiti Nui Billabong Pro Trials.
With a four-day window running August 9 – 12, the trials event has in the past boasted some of the best Teahupoo conditions in the history of the event and arguably up-staged the main event on several occasions. With contenders committing everything they’ve got for a chance at two wildcard spots into the main event, local Tahitian’s have dominated the event over the years (Alain Riou the most recent local to win last year), with only Brazilian tube fiend Ricardo Dos Santos and Pipe specialist Jamie O’Brien momentarily up-setting that trend.
Other contenders include a crew of international surfers who have proven themselves at solid Teahupo’o (Bruce Irons, Damien Hobgood, Ian Walsh to name a few) and some of the Billabong team’s most exciting talent that’s currently not on tour, namely W.A. grommet Jack Robinson. In he 16-year-old charger got his first taste of Teahupo’o just a couple weeks ago.
“Teahupo’o is unbelievable,” Robinson said. “Just how clean it is and being able to paddle such a big volume slab of a wave. I’ve seen a million photos and videos, but doing it in person is better than I could have imagined. My favourite Teahupo’o vision is of that Code Red day, some of that slow motion video is insane.”
Out of the local trialists, Manoa Drollet remains the most experienced, surfing in the Billabong Pro Tahiti six times, including a third place finish in the first ASP World Championship event at Teahupo’o in 1999 and a runner-up finish to Bruno Santos in the all-wildcard final in 2008.
“It’s an exciting time of year!” Drollet said. “Teahupo’o is my favourite wave and you get a chance to surf against the best in the world, to be from Tahiti and have the chance to compete in this event is a great opportunity. The forecast is looking really good, if it doesn’t change from what I saw, this event could be all time, it’s the perfect forecast. It’s not going to be super big, but 8, 10, 12 feet maybe. Most of the guys on Tour are starting to get really good out there, they know it as much as me – I love watching Kelly Slater and Parko and Mick (Fanning) too. There’s an exciting young generation of Tahitians coming up, they know to be good at Teahupo’o is important and they will be good to watch.”
One other contender to watch out for of course will be Brazilian tube fiend Ricardo dos Santos who, after winning the main event back in 2008 as a wildcard, took out the trials in both 2011 and 2012 had an impressive run at at the Billabong Pro Tahiti in 2012, finishing equal 5th place after losing to eventual winner Mick Fanning in the quarters.
“It’s always a pleasure to surf with only a couple guys out at Teahupo’o,” dos Santos said. “It feels amazing to have the opportunity of choosing the best wave of the set and just go. Teahupo’o puts you in your place. That wave never lets you feel 100 percent comfortable, that’s why it is the best feeling ever when you make the barrel. My last wave against Kelly gave me the best feeling of my life. I knew that I got the score, and I could feel that the ocean chose me in that moment.”
* Another eight locals will be added to draw via pre-trials event
Ricardo dos Santos
Past Air Tahiti Nui VonZipper Trials Winners
2012 Alain Riou (PFY)
2012 Ricardo Dos Santos (BRA)
2011 Ricardo Dos Santos (BRA)
2010 Tuamata Puhetini (PFY)
2009 Heiarii Williams (PFY)
2008 Jamie O’Brien (HAW)
2007 Manoa Drollet (PFY)
2006 Heiarii Williams (PFY)
2005 Manoa Drollet (PFY)
2004 Heimata Carroll (PFY)
2003 Alain Riou (PFY)
2002 Vetea David (PFY)
2001 Bruce Irons (HAW)