Before we start cataloguing the other side of the ledger, let’s itemize the things that weren’t perfect about today. The Teahupoo school boat—there’s no road fit for a school bus here—was running five minutes late this morning (and no one seemed to care). At 11:37 a.m., the wind shifted from totally breathless to one knot onshore from the south (and stopped three minutes later). My coffee this morning could have been a little warmer. But apart from these and a litany of grievous First World problems (how long you got?) this was about as good a day as any surf fan was going to get.
Perched out on the tower this morning, it didn’t matter whether you faced the mountains or the sea, you had to be missing chromosomes, a heart, or eyeballs not to be overcome by what assailed your senses. Lit up under bright skies the mountains looked like they’d been shipped 65 million years through time. They looked so young you could still hear them groaning skyward, and as we sat there we pondered our chances of survival were we ever to be chopper-dropped into the primal heart of Tahiti Iti (we figured they’d be slim, unless you ran into Tom Curren or Shane Herring and they offered you appropriate sustenance). Then, pirouetting and glimpsing the ocean, things only got better. The swell had juiced up from yesterday, kept its westerly aspect, and under benevolent skies Teahupoo was about as sweet as she’s ever looked. The combined effect of all this was cathartic, humbling, purifying for the soul. Or this may have just been the coffee, tepid as it was.
And no one had even surfed yet.
If we’re being so bold as to talk perfection, let’s analyse the concept today through the eyes of the guys who are paid to be the arbiters of such things—the ASP judges.
Jeremy Flores got the first perfect 10 of the day, and it was revelatory. His backhand tube stance has become the high water mark on Tour: the squaring of the shoulders, the dropping of the hips, the back foot shifting and drawing his weight forward. But it’s his positioning before he gets to his feet, which underpins his whole act. To ride the deepest lefts he takes off going right, then backs his ability to get him out of the trouble he’s put himself in.
Being in Tahiti has harbored memories of home in Jeremy—Reunion Island—an ocean-and-a-half away but culturally not far removed from Tahiti, a French colonial rock in the middle of some big water. There’s been trouble at home lately, another fatal shark attack—the fifth in two years—and it’s prompted a shark cull that Jeremy has been calling for. “I think the main problem is people not from Reunion coming to Reunion and doing things that shouldn’t be there. They built a fish farm along the seven kilometres of coast where all the waves are. No one was concerned at the start because there’s always been sharks there. But what happened with the fish farm is that the local fishermen can’t fish there anymore so the sharks don’t feel threatened. The bull sharks are eating everything. The bull shark is the worst. It’s eating anything they find and it’s f–ked the whole…what’s the word?”
“And when there’s no more fish they attack humans. You have to do something. You go to the mountains and a wolf is attacking goats, they will kill the wolf. I mean, the bull shark isn’t in danger of extinction; there are billions of them. I’m not saying wipe them out; just control them.”
There’s been a similar eradication program going on in lagoon at Teahupoo during the past week—not bull sharks though, stonefish. The poison injected into your foot when you tread on one of these ugly bastards won’t kill you, but the pain it radiates throughout your body may see you kill yourself to make it go away. Fair to say your day would be far from perfect if you trod on one. Anyway, a stonefish took up residence this morning literally three feet from shore at the contest boat drop-off on the point amid unsuspecting locals, tourists, dignitaries and (most importantly) pro surfers. A thick, sharpened piece of steel reo was produced and the unfortunate stonefish was soon skewered and paraded around the point as a trophy. [Late this afternoon the guy on the receiving end of Jeremy’s 10-point wave—Brett Simpson—suffered a similar fate when his board skewered him during a freesurf and split his nose wide open, compounding what had been by all standards a pretty ordinary day for him.]
The second perfect 10 came predictably from John John. Don’t act so surprised, although Dos Juan seemed a little bemused himself when the score was read out. The 10 had plenty of company in his tally however, and he won his way into the final 12 here at Chopes in a canter. John Florence’s life of surfing is blurring into one big party. Dungeons to Teahupoo in the same week? Really? If Kelly was the quintessential surfer of the past 20 years, John John looks set to be the prototype for the next 20. He’s set to be the guy to unite every one of surfing’s disciplines under the one roof, the world’s only true high-performance big-wave touring aerialist freesurfer. And after the nonchalant brilliance of his display today he’d be a clear favourite to win this event…if there weren’t another six guys we’re saying the same thing about.
The most dramatic 10 of the day came from Mick Fanning, and it came when Mick needed it most. Pitted against good mate Ian Walsh, Mick found himself in a spot of bother when the ocean went into the doldrums in the dying minutes with him chasing a nine. Mick Fanning leads this year’s Tour ratings, but has stayed largely invisible. He knows better than anyone though that if he’s to challenge for a third world title a result here in Tahiti is a non negotiable. Pretty much every world title for the past decade says this is the case. And so it was with an air of mild desperation that he stroked into a wave in the dying seconds, a big ol’ west bowl peak, and had to barge his way through the thing like it was a pub full of drunken Irishmen at last call. Somehow he emerged into the light on the other side, immediately triumphant. It was the 9 he needed and then some, and he earned himself a seat at the table with the last 12, part of a horribly stacked top half of the draw that includes himself, John John, Jordy, Jeremy and Josh Kerr (we’re only missing Jun Jo, Joey Jenkins and Jojo Olivenca). In the penultimate heat of the day Kelly Slater scored a trifling 9.97, a wave clearly not a 10 and clearly not perfect, and in light of this we’ll readily dismiss any chance Kelly Slater has of winning the event.
Teahupoo was a seductress today, luring any surfer watching on into believing they could have their way with her. Every flubbering hack from every beachbreak between Papara and Pismo Beach watched on today thinking that if given the chance they could have paddled out and start toying with the place. It was perfect, but it was still Teahupoo. Just ask Brett.