Well kids, it’s that time of year again. I know you’re just as stoked as I am. Only one more day until the annual week and a half of utter mayhem begins. Cinco de Mayo isn’t a day for celebrating Mexican history, it’s a day for celebrating those who have the balls to ride the heaviest waves on Earth. I’m talking about the Billabong Pro at Teahupoo, Tahiti, and this year’s competition is already shaping up to be a doozy.
The competition will be held on the best four days between May 5 and 17. The top 45 men and 17 women in the world will battle against each other, the massive waves and the razor-sharp reef. So far, even the warm-up sessions have proven to be pretty damn intense.
On Sunday, the competition’s wild card, Tahiti native Raimana Van Bastoloae, came within inches of losing his life when his tow-in driver, Hawaiian Reef Macintosh, didn’t make it back over the lip of the 12-foot wave. Macintosh ditched the Jet Ski, which sent it over the falls in the direction of Van Bastoloae’s cranium. If it weren’t for his quick reaction time, there would have been a messy meeting between Jet Ski, head, reef and a couple tons of moving water. Of course, this did not stop Van Bastoloae from getting towed into even larger waves on Monday.
Another standout in practice was Keala Kennelly, who became the first woman to ever be towed into a wave at Teahupoo. Kennelly, who is known for her confidence in heavy surf, made it out of a 12-foot wave without a problem, which should give current world champion and winner of the 2004 Billabong Pro Sofia Mulanovich something to worry about.
The big question that’s on everyone’s mind right now is how Andy Irons will perform in this event. As the reigning world champ for three consecutive years, he is shouldering a lot of high expectations, but his performance so far this year makes me question whether he’ll be able to live up to them.
Irons is currently ranked third in the World Championship Tour behind Aussies Trent Munro, who beat Irons in the final of the Rip Curl Pro, and Mick Fanning. Despite claims from surf reporters around the world that Irons is unstoppable, he hasn’t won in Teahupoo since 2002, and he’ll be up against some stiff competition. Notable among the field are six-time world champ Kelly Slater, 1999 world champ Mark Occhilupo, last year’s Billabong Pro winner CJ Hobgood and Tahitian Hira Terinatoofa, who eliminated Jake Paterson and Taj Burrow in last year’s competition.
Personally, I’m tired of all the hype surrounding Andy, and am ready to see a new world champ. At this point, it’s anyone’s title to take. No matter the outcome, the action is sure to be intense. You can catch the live webcast, photos and news updates at www.billabongpro.com, so you don’t have to wait for the June issue of Surfer Magazine to check out the carnage.