Unproven contenders, Aussie hopefuls and the Medina Slater duopoly
The Tahiti Pro Teahupo’o kicks off on August 21 and should provide another fascinating twist in the 2019 professional surfing tail. With the forecast looking good, a tight World Title race and worthy wildcards there are narratives aplenty. Here we look at just five storylines that may play out at the End Of The Road.
Which Julian will turn up?
In his latest In Between series episode Julian Wilson cuts a morose figure after losing in the early rounds to Zeke Lau. “I’ve lost the mongrel in me,” he whispered forlornly, as the last of his 2019 World Title aspirations scattered into the J-Bay breeze. Tahiti, therefore, might be the best event to recalibrate. Of all the CT locations this is a place where pure surfing tends to trump strategy, and no one surfs more pure than Wilson. If the defending champion can unleash his inner mongrel, while he may be still too far back for a World Title tilt, a win could at least reset his year and get him back to the top end of the table where he belongs.
The WSL Wildcard Matahi Drollet has muscled his way into the field through years of commitment at his local break. The 20-year-old has invariably been on the biggest, or best, wave of each major swell and has risen to the top of the Teahupoo totem pole in a short time. His chances of success will be in direct correlation with the size of the swell, however none of the World Title contenders will want to face him early. The last wildcard winner here was Bruno Santos in 2008, who defeated Manoa Drollet in the Final. Matahi has every chance of going one better than his elder brother.
World Title Wildcards
The World Title race is stacked with surfers whose track record at the wave isn’t that flash. Kolohe Andino, Filipe Toledo, Italo Ferreira, Kanoa Igarashi and Jordy Smith have never made the Final in Tahiti and all can be considered to have a question mark over their ability at the wave. Toledo and Smith have probably the longest records of poor results, although both have made significant attempts to improve their surfing in lefthand slabs. The others have a more natural ability but still remain unproven. A massive result here for any of them would enhance both their reputation and World Title chances.
What Chances of Kelly Gabriel Final?
Since 2011 there has only been one Final that hasn’t featured either Kelly Slater or Gabriel Medina (the Parko/Fanning clash of 2012). With the absence of John John Florence and the above-mentioned contenders lacking winning experience at Chopes, you’d bet on one, or both, making the Final. Kelly has won here a record five times, his win here in 2016 being his last CT victory. Medina has made the Final an incredible five out of the last six events and his win against Kelly in the epic conditions of 2014 still ranks as one of the sport’s defining performances.
The Aussie Push
We’ve mentioned Julian Wilson as one of Australia’s best at the wave, however Owen Wright has been slightly forgotten as a real contender. He made the Final here in 2011, and while his head injury may still affect him in waves of consequence, his tuberiding skills remain top-shelf. Ryan Callinan, the highest-ranked Australian, has been traveling to Chopes for years to surf the Trials, and his ability in legit barrels still remains seriously underrated. This could be the event where all that changes. That just leaves Ace Buchan, the 2013 winner, who always comes to the fore whenever it is eight-foot and barreling. Again, if the forecast is good, he’ll back himself to go all the way.