Photo: WSL/Poullenot

Almost Tahitian: Sean Doherty On The Beginning of the Tahiti Pro

It crumbled like onshore Trestles on a dying, long period swell.

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Phil Toledo got a little ahead of himself post-victory yesterday. “By the time this contest finishes, I’ll have been here for a month, so I’m pretty much a Tahitian now.”

The words weren’t even past his lips when he was looking for reverse gear. There are actual Tahitians who don’t feel they’re Tahitian enough to claim that. Phil knew he’d got a little carried away and was probably glad he said it in Tahiti and not Hawaii, but you couldn’t blame him for catching feels. He’d just aced his first heat… and the forecast! There’s nothing coming! It’ll be closer to two foot than 10 foot and will suit Phil’s high voltage turns perfectly. Famously spooked by this wave, the psychology behind the ratings leader and his Tahiti adventure this year has been fascinating.

We all know Phil scored a donut here three years ago. Zero. Didn’t take off. The wave has had his number, royally, but this year he turned up early to Tahiti on a swell and got amongst it, admirably. But while he seems to have shaken the monkey, there remains the question why he didn’t do it years ago.

In terms of mastering the tour schedule, he’s got a little master in his corner he should be taking cues from. Adriano De Souza knows it isn’t rocket surgery. You look at the schedule, identify the waves where you have no game, and you get your ass straight there and start chipping away at the 10,000 hours. Working on his weak points won De Souza the unlikeliest of world titles, and now Toledo has finally done it and is on his way to his own title.

Like everyone else, I watched clip after clip on social media of Phil pulling into sets, getting dragged, getting limed. There was a lot of hype about his Tahiti warm up… a little too much maybe. I imagined De Souza sitting there watching it shaking his head. De Souza would’ve stealthed in, stayed in a tin shed and told no-one… and then turned up to the contest weeks later and scorched his heats.

Either Phil, Gabby or Italo will win the title this year. That became clear yesterday, even before Julian Wilson paddled out and lost. All three were electric in their own way out there , Medina the pick. Looking back now four years, you understand how big Medina winning here in Tahiti was as a beachhead for his troops. Medina not only won in Tahiti, he won big in the biggest year they’ve ever surfed it. In past years as they crossed the isthmus and skirted the lagoon road around Tahiti Iti, they’d visibly shrink in their seats as the landscape around them grew. Not now. Not after Gabby’s win. The Brazilian lads collectively felt embiggened, confident, almost, dare say it, Tahitian.

When Julian Wilson won the contest here last year, you also felt he’d acquired a boss rating at Teahupoo and he was expected to saunter past wildcard Tikanui Smith, who was surfing on one leg. It was, however, like Julian had watched the Brazilian trio surf and resigned himself to the inevitable. The year belongs to them, and the ocean agreed. Julian surfed a dead ocean, but losing needing just a 1.8 is a sign from above that this year it’s not your title to win.

Julian surfed a dead ocean, but losing needing just a 1.8 is a sign from above that this year it’s not your title to win.

Halfway through the heat, as the two surfers just sat there, Strider was milking it hard. “This is literally Julian’s life here.” While the summary execution of all losers might help with falling ratings, Julian will surf on despite the dark hole he’d be in right now. Barton Lynch, voice of reason, had a broader take on it. Over the span of a long surfing career there are maybe only a handful of truly pivotal moments, the nails that all the big pieces hang off. As Julian scrapped around the inside looking for some lazy reef wash to turn into a shitty two, BL knew this was a big moment for Julian.

Onward bravely into round two today and the lineup looked better suited to snorkelling tours than a surfing contest on the “world’s most dangerous wave”™. The commentary was working hard to bring some kind of energy to it, complete with the uniform pronunciation of “Chop-oh” and the intro song that sounds like a Christian rock version of Sabbath’s Iron Man.

It was hard work for everyone. It crumbled like onshore Trestles on a dying, long period swell. Lowlights trumped highlights. Owen Wright moved like a giant white spider across the wave face. Yago Dora went to the sky. Wilko’s miserable year got worse. Someone suggested he hobble himself, break his own ankles Misery-style and go for the injury wildcard, only to realise that Kelly and John already have their names on them. Mikey February caught the most unconvincing 2.50 ever surfed to advance in the dying seconds… if Julian was watching from the airport, he would have crushed a paper cup in his hand.

Day 1 highlights:

The three best waves from Day 2:

Sean Doherty