Despite a recent, severe head injury, Jeremy Flores (FRA) has won the Billabong Pro Tahiti and with its Jeep rankings boost, has joined the Title race. After a contest that saw intense heats and big upsets, the race to the top has grown to include six surfers within one event win of overtaking the No. 1 position.
Neither Flores nor his Final opponent Gabriel Medina (BRA) had an easy road there: Both surfers defeated World Champs and Title contenders along the way. Going into Finals Day, Filipe Toledo (BRA) and Owen Wright (AUS) seemed like the imminent frontrunners, poised to take control of the Jeep Leaderboard in a Final that would be a battle royale between a progressive expert and a barrel guru. Each was just two heats away from stealing the yellow jersey from Adriano de Souza (BRA), with Wright having already made the Quarterfinals.
But that story was not to be. Toledo suffered a shocker in Round 5, surfing in the first heat of the day against Italo Ferreira (BRA). Currently the highest-ranked rookie on Tour, Ferreira took an early lead with an 8.83 for a heavy barrel. Things only got worse for Toledo, as he watched idly while the rookie surfed laps around him, racking up seven rides and ultimately shutting him out, 15.00 to zero.
Wright also had to get past Ferreira, but had a bit more luck in the Quarterfinal matchup. The Australian was strong from the start, earning a 7.50 on his first ride. Ferreira continued to apply pressure, overtaking the lead with an excellent 8.67, but Wright was able to use his powerful frame in the building swell to his advantage. Air-dropping into a thick tube, he made it through one of the heaviest waves of the day to earn a 9.43 and a spot in the Semis.
Once there, only Medina stood between Wright and the yellow jersey. The reigning World Champ has recently returned to form, defending his Tahitian title with big scores and an impressive rhythm. With two deep tube rides, Medina put the Australian in a combo situation, in which he needed two new scores to catch up. Wright fought back but, almost immediately, Medina upped the ante with a 7.90, winning the heat and ensuring that De Souza would keep the yellow jersey going into the next event.
Flores, meanwhile, was strong from start to finish. He wore a helmet throughout the event to protect his skull, but didn't hold back. In Round 5, Flores narrowly defeated formidable rookie Wiggolly Dantas (BRA) and went on to defeat 11-time World Champ Kelly Slater (USA) in the Quarterfinals. Slater, who was on pace to break into the Top 5 (and the World Title race along with it), missed his chance and was eliminated. It was the 152nd Quarterfinal of his career.
Flores' calm approach continued in the Semifinals, where C.J. Hobgood (USA) led for most of their faceoff. But, true to form, Flores found two bombs in the final 10 minutes to put Hobgood in a combo situation (in which he needed two new scores to catch up), and out of the contest. Still, Hobgood won't leave empty-handed: He was honored with Billabong's Andy Irons Most Committed Performance Award.
Flores had been an impressive underdog throughout the Billabong Pro, including his Round 3 defeat of 2012 World Champ Joel Parkinson (AUS) with two scores in the nine-point range. He carried that confidence with him all the way to the Final, where he scored a 9.87 on his first takeoff. Medina, who had been on fire for most of the event, faltered on his opening rides and struggled to find a solid wave.
A crucial back-and-forth unfolded at the 15-minute mark, in which Medina edged ahead. He put another score on the board, but Flores' early heroics were enough to carry him to victory.