Kelly Slater (USA) deep inside a tube at Teahupo’o on his way to victory in the Billabong Pro Tahiti on Tuesday Photo: WSL / Poullenot
In a memorable day for professional surfing, Kelly Slater (USA) rewrote the record books by defeating John John Florence in the final of the Billabong Pro Tahiti, stop No. 7 of 11 on the 2016 Samsung Galaxy WSL Championship Tour (CT), in flawless and pumping 1.5 to 2.5 metre waves at the fabled break of Teahupo’o yesterday (Tuesday).
The peerless 11-time World Champion improved on his own record-setting legacy by claiming his 55th CT event title and his fifth win in Tahiti; delivering four perfect 10 point rides in the same event, three on the final day, including his third perfect 20 point heat total (only nine perfect heats have been produced in the history of the sport); extending his record as the oldest surfer to win a CT and averaging an incredible 18.29 out of 20 for the seven heats he contested.
“When I look back that will for sure be one of the best wins I have ever had,” said an elated Slater. “To have John John [Florence] in the final is a dream for me. It is no secret that I am towards the tail-end of my career. John John and Gabriel [Medina] are on their way up and those guys are just monsters. John John is everybody’s favourite surfer, so I want to see how many heats I can get with him before I am done, and to have him out here where he and Gabriel are the favourites. This is a really special time for me. I am stoked.”
The win was Slater’s best result of the season and his first CT event win in 32 months, since the Billabong Pipe Masters in 2013. After finishing 25th, 13th and 25th in the first three events of 2016, and then electing not to participate in the fourth event in Brazil in May, he slumped to a worst ever No. 36 on the Jeep Leaderboard.
Since June the 44 year-old he earned 3rd place in Fiji, 5th place Jeffreys Bay and won in Tahiti which has elevated him 28 places to No. 8 in the rankings going into the last four events of the season, all of which he has won multiple times.
“It just came together for me,” continued Slater. “I was on the right waves, I was in sync and totally relaxed the whole time. To be in that Final with John John and lose would have been no problem for me. I was taking each heat as a bonus. I have had such a bad run for me historically over the last couple of years that anything was going to be good.”
Slater’s amazing run through the event also saw him receive the Andy Irons Most Committed Performance Award, a trophy that goes to the standout surfer of the Billabong Pro Tahiti to honour the late three-time world champion and one of Slater’s fiercest rivals. Previous winners include C.J. Hobgood (2015), Owen Wright (2014), John John Florence (2013), Ricardo dos Santos (2012) and Jeremy Flores (2011).
“I’m so stoked, I’ve worked for this thing for years,” said Slater on receiving the trophy after his semifinal victory. “Andy [Irons] would be equally mad and stoked that I won this. Last time I surfed against Andy, it was here at Teahupo’o and he won the event. It was his last win, and I lost to him in the Semifinals. It was a really special heat for me and this is a really special award. This is rad and I can’t wait to put the award in my house. I feel like I’ve won the contest already.”
The runner-up finish for Florence is his best ever result at Teahupo’o and sees the 23-year-old claim the Jeep Leader Jersey from Matt Wilkinson (AUS) who has held it since the first event of the year.
“I am super stoked to be the leader on the Jeep Rankings,” Florence said. “But at this point, it is only a yellow jersey and what counts is at the end of the year. There is still a lot to go this year and I’m going to keep chipping away at it.”
Gabriel Medina (BRA), 2014 event winner and 2015 finalist, took home a third-place finish following an incredible match-up against Florence in the second semifinal. The sensational superheat that is already being touted as ‘Heat of the Year’, saw the pair battle for a place in the final and the chance to claim the Jeep Leader Jersey.
The surfers traded impressive scores throughout the heat, posting seven excellent barrels above 9.00 between them during the bout. The Hawaiian held a slight lead of 18.44 to Medina’s 17.46, but with ten minutes left on the clock, Medina challenged Florence by coming out of a monstrous barrel to earn a Perfect 10 (the fifth of the day) and gain control of the heat.
Under pressure and with four minutes remaining, Florence needed a 9.31. In a dramatic exchange, Florence used his priority to land a critical 9.93 to regain the lead and followed it up with a 9.73 to seal the win.
“It was a really fun heat,” said Medina. “John [Florence] is always hard to beat anywhere. We both had really good waves. It was his day today. I look forward to Trestles.”
South Africa’s Jordy Smith led for most of his Round 5 heat on the final day before eventual semi-finalist Adrian ‘Ace’ Buchan (AUS) slotted into an incredibly deep tube and emerged with a 9.10 and the heat win.
The Durbanite matched his career best 9th place finish in Tahiti and moved up two places to equal fifth place with Julian Wilson (AUS) on the Jeep Rankings going into his more favoured events at Trestles, near his new home in California where he won in 2014, and in France and Portugal.
The next stop on the 2016 Samsung Galaxy WSL Championship Tour will be the Hurley Pro and Swatch Women’s Pro at Trestles in California, which will see the battle for this season’s World Titles heat up as the world’s best surfers take on Lowers from September 7 -18, 2016.
Highlights, results, heat reviews and more form from the Billabong Pro Tahiti are available at WorldSurfLeague.com
BILLABONG PRO TAHITI FINAL RESULTS:
1: Kelly Slater (USA) 19.67
2: John John Florence (HAW) 15.23
BILLABONG PRO TAHITI SEMIFINAL RESULTS:
SF 1: Kelly Slater (USA) 18.40 def. Adrian Buchan (AUS) 16.10
SF 2: John John Florence (HAW) 19.66 def. Gabriel Medina (BRA) 19.23
BILLABONG PRO TAHITI QUARTERFINAL RESULTS:
QF 1: Adrian Buchan (AUS) 18.16 def. Kolohe Andino (USA) 16.00
QF 2: Kelly Slater (USA) 19.27 def. Bruno Santos (BRA) 17.43
QF 3: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 17.90 def. Josh Kerr (AUS) 13.40
QF 4: John John Florence (HAW) 17.34 def. Julian Wilson (AUS) 16.60
BILLABONG PRO TAHITI ROUND 5 MATCH-UPS:
Heat 1: Adrian Buchan (AUS) 16.77 def. Jordy Smith (ZAF) 12.60
Heat 2: Kelly Slater (USA) 20.00 def. Keanu Asing (HAW) 14.70
Heat 3: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 15.43 def. Jadson Andre (BRA) 14.33
Heat 4: John John Florence (HAW) 18.30 def. Joel Parkinson (AUS) 15.90
2016 WSL Jeep Leaderboard Top 5 (after Billabong Pro Tahiti):
1. John John Florence (HAW) 39,900 pts
2. Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 36,000 pts
3. Gabriel Medina (BRA) 35,700 pts
4. Adrian Buchan (AUS) 26,200 pts
5. Julian Wilson (AUS) 25,200 pts
5. Jordy Smith (ZAF) 25,200 pts
NOTE: High resolutions images are available on request for media outlets
About the World Surf League
The World Surf League (WSL), formerly the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP), is dedicated to celebrating the world’s best surfing on the world’s best waves through a variety of best-in-class audience platforms. The League, headquartered in Santa Monica, is a truly global sport with regional offices in Australasia, Africa, North America, South America, Hawaii, Japan and Europe.
The WSL has been championing the world’s best surfing since 1976, running global events across the Samsung Galaxy Men’s and Women’s Championship Tours, the Big Wave Tour, Qualifying Series, Junior and Longboard Championships, as well as the WSL Big Wave Awards. The League possesses a deep appreciation for the sport’s rich heritage while promoting progression, innovation and performance at the highest levels.
Showcasing the world’s best surfing on its digital platform at WorldSurfLeague.com as well as the free WSL app, the WSL has a passionate global fan base with millions tuning in to see world-class athletes like Mick Fanning, John John Florence, Stephanie Gilmore, Greg Long, Gabriel Medina, Carissa Moore, Makua Rothman, Kelly Slater, Adriano de Souza and more battle on the most unpredictable and dynamic field of play of any sport in the world.
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