Sean Doherty: Putting For Dough
Owen Wright Wins the 2019 Tahiti Pro Teahupo'o
A lot easier sleeping last night. For some anyway.
The field had stared down the top of the swell yesterday and most of them had done better than simply survive it. The bar got moved on a big, raw ol’ day. Teahupo'o yesterday had made them all look hard in the mirror… and some guys might be looking into the mirror for a few years yet. There would have been plenty of contenders for the Andy Irons Award… only I didn’t hear it mentioned anywhere on the broadcast or see it handed out. Did I miss something?
Yesterday was survival; today was there to be won. Drive for show, putt for dough.
If you began today with the premise that Gabe Medina, on the back of a stone cold performance yesterday in some Stone Age surf, would win this Tahitian contest and then tried to poke holes in that idea, where would you start? A drop in the surf? Sorry, Gabby won the Tahiti final last year in the wake of a South Pacific cruise ship. A Teahupo'o specialist out-Teahupo'oing him? Owen or Jeremy maybe? Hmmm… plausible. Someone who could checkmate him on the Teahupo'o chess board? Unlikely. Dude looks ready to roll through to Christmas.
Owen and Jaddy paddled out in the first quarter. The swell looked spent. The shorter fetch on the western aspect meant it was never going to top out for more than a day. It looked much smaller and the lineup had split in two – up and down the reef.
Owen was back out there in the white stackhat. If the sets were there he was going to push it. Before the brain bleed Owen would own days like yesterday. It’s pathological. I remember the afternoon of the big Fiji swell in 2012, after coming in from Cloudbreak he paddled out alone at Namotu lefts, which was 12, maybe 15 feet and doing a fair impersonation of Teahupo'o.
Owen and Jaddy traded fours before the ocean lurched and there it was, a legit set. Owen’s nine was a black one from deep. Owen’s 10 on the wave after might not have been a transcendent 10, but it was two points better than his nine.
Jordy and Adriano arrived on finals day largely untracked. Julian Wilson’s drop into the abyss stole the headlines from Jordy’s heat yesterday, while Adriano had been lucky to get past Italo. But here they were on finals day and for Jordy this was cream. All the guys above him in the ratings were already headed for Faa’a Airport and somehow he’d survived the carnage of yesterday with a chance to go deep into a contest when no one expected him to. Moving to Hawaii, it’s gotta be said, has been good for his surfing. Tahiti is not his natural schtick – he’s had to build a little every year – and if you’d offered a semi at the start of this event he’d have taken it every day of the week.
The other strategy to beat Gabe – the one most commonly and successfully employed over the years – is to let Gabe beat himself, and this is what Jeremy Flores tried in their quarter. By now the waves were losing teeth. We hadn’t seen a big set since Owen’s 10, and the smaller sets were moving up and down the reef. Gabby tried paddling Jeremy up the reef before bolting back down to the West Peak. Only problem for Gabby was that the West Peak didn’t break. The top of the reef didn’t break. Nothing broke and they sat there. With 12 minutes to go Gabby was on donuts. Jeremy had nothing either but dropped anchor and was waiting for a set… or nothing. He got nothing while Gabe started hustled around the inside and picked up enough crumbs to win.
You gotta love what both Seth Moniz and Caio Ibelli did yesterday. They punched well above their weight at the top of the swell and carried that into today. Both have been revelations this year. Both have had something to prove… Seth as a rookie, Caio jilted after being shined for the injury wildcard. Seth found the waves for the win.
The semis arrived in concert with a diluvian rainstorm. Teahupo'o suddenly looked like another wave, on another day. Against Jordy in the semi, Owen got smart and got moving before the squall really set in and anything weird happened to the lineup. He found an eight from up deep, then sat inside and found a double-up seven. They were then becalmed for the rest of the semi. Owen into the final.
In Gabby’s horniness to take the first wave against Seth Moniz he almost circumnavigated Tahiti and in the process gifted Seth a golden chance to put an upset in motion. Gabby took a deep, inside closeout only to turn around and see Seth on a solid one. If he’d come out it was game on. Instead Seth got bogged on the foamball and didn’t come out. Medina’s blood was up now, and he threaded a barrel and came out with eyes for Seth, flicking out next to him and racing him out for priority, shoulder to shoulder. The kid held firm, but he was being shadowed for the rest of the heat. Seth cashed his priority on a crumbly piece of rubbish, the screws turned and Gabby was into his 50th Tahiti final.
After yesterday, a Gabby/Owen final felt right. They owned it yesterday and they got to reprise their waist-high final from last year in some better surf.
The final started with an incredible display of not much. Gabby and Owen paddled each other all over the lineup without the threat of a breaking wave. The only interesting aspect was that somehow Gabby gave up the inside. Gabby then blew up when Owen paddled at a wave with priority and the judges let him keep it. On the broadcast Barton was jazzed by the jockeying in a way only an 80s tour surfer could. The final settled without hitting any dizzying heights. Gabby worked the inside for a pair of sevens, and with a few minutes to go and with Gabby holding priority that looked like it might be enough. Someone who hassled so hard for the first wave was never going to give up the last wave.
Except he did.
Owen ghosted to the inside and managed to sneak into an inside double-up from way deep. We’d seen a couple of these waves during the event – Kauli Vaast took out Kolohe with one yesterday – and this thing snaked the length of the reef. When the white stackhat popped out Owen only had to hang on for the final couple of minutes, which he did. Owen handed Gabby the Tahiti final last year; Gabby returned the favour today.
Owen was overdue. Back in the big year of 2014 Owen had gone harder than anyone and got his bell rung as a result. Then he went and got his bell rung for real at Pipe and now three years later he’s turned up to Tahiti in a skate helmet and on a serious swell has finally cracked it for a win.
Medina meanwhile leaves Tahiti ready to take this thing down. He’s not owning it on the ratings just yet, but he’s owning it on feel. The three defining days of the season have all been his – at Bells, J-Bay and now Tahiti. The other remarkable thing is that he’s delivered gold standard surfing at each without ever travelling there outside of contests. He doesn’t need to. Just show up and blow up.
And so the tour heads from a sleepy frangipani-framed corner of the South Pacific to the onion fields of Lemoore for the mechanised Surf Ranch event. The cultural contrast – and the contrast in fragrance – will be stark. The one constant of course is that Medina will head to the Kelly’s wave tub as the red hot favourite.
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