The Billabong Pro Tahiti started to a very different tune than last year's slabfest. Conditions forced quick closeouts and hard-to-read sets, and those surfers who knew the wave best did the best. Experience and contest knowledge trumped everything from headspace to seeding.
When it came to comfort, all eyes were on three-time WSL Champion Mick Fanning (AUS) as he made his first appearance in competition since being attacked by a shark in the Final of the J-Bay Open. The 2012 event winner did not disappoint, posting a 5.50 on his second wave and a 6.67 after powering through a crumbly barrel. His total comboed his opponents.
"It was great to get back in the singlet and focus on surfing again," said Fanning. "There's been so much hype about the incident in J-Bay and so much media attention and I just want to move on. It happened and will be one of those stories when I'm old. It was really tough out there and there weren't too many opportunities and I lucked out with a 5 and a 6."
Experience wasn't always reflected in how the surfers were seeded in the draw, leading to two early upsets. Aritz Aranburu (ESP), who entered the draw as a replacement for the injured Matt Banting (AUS), competed in Tahiti during the three years he was on the Championship Tour and made the Semifinals in 2009. His opponents, rookie Keanu Asing (HAW) and Filipe Toledo (BRA), were both making their competitive Teaupo'o debuts, and the Spaniard easily outmatched them, locking in the first excellent score of the event for a committed drop on one of the bigger set waves of the day.
"I thought it would be the best thing to wait for the good ones," said Aranburu. "The waves are not hollow enough so I was waiting for the ones that were bending and getting deep into the barrel."
Another former Tahiti champ found success in spite of his low seed. Trials winner Bruno Santos (BRA) took down the field of CT competitors in 2008 and looked in fine form again during Round 1. With minimal waves on offer, Santos stayed busy and ultimately earned the advance to Round 3 over World No. 1 Adriano de Souza (BRA) and Michel Bourez (PYF).
Ultimately the unfavorable forced Commissioner Kieren Perrow to end the day four heats shy of finishing Round 1. Tune into worldsurfleague.com or the WSL app for Dawn Patrol at 7:30 a.m. local time to see when competition will get back underway.