In a redux of what’s still being called one of the greatest heats at Teahupo’o of all time, this year’s Billabong Pro Tahiti final saw Kelly (GOAT) Slater versus Double John Florence, and Kelly emerged victorious. During a year where both his ability and level of interest have been called into question, Kelly pulled off his 55th win to cap off an incredible showing.
On the final day, Kelly came out swinging – scoring two perfect tens in his heat against Keanu Asing. He then went on to beat Ace Buchan in the semis, while John John took out the only person who could threaten his ascension to world number 1, Gabriel Medina.
Before the final, WSL Commissioner Kieren Perrow awarded Kelly the Andy Irons Commitment Award. “I feel like I won already,” Kelly said. Must have been premonition.
The king then went on to throw up big scores in the final with John John – a 9.77 for his first wave, a 9.90 later. John John surfed well, but didn’t quite give Kelly a run for his money. All the same, John John now finds himself at the top of the Jeep Leaderboard.
And Tahiti is a turning point. Title races start to narrow, and qualification questions come into focus. John John places himself in good position for a run at his first world title. With a few poor results, Kelly needs something incredible to happen for the back half of the season, but it’s not out of the question.
But that doesn’t mean that this win is any less meaningful. Donning a lei and crown in his post-heat interview, Kelly talked about not having the type of pressure guys like Wilko, John John and Gabriel have leading the top 10. And while that kind of aloof attitude is perhaps what led many to proclaim Kelly’s waning interest in the first place, his win at Teahupo’o now serves as a strong counterpoint.