Teahupoo, Toledo, and the title outcome
Now that John John is out of the race, the CT title conversation is revolving around two things: Gabriel Medina blitzing the back half of the season, and Filipe Toledo's chances in the heavy water of Teahupoo and Pipeline.
We don't have much to say about Gabs, the stats are there for everyone to see, but regarding FT, there's one big factor that hasn't yet been mentioned: Teahupoo's banner year.
You may have noticed that Teahupoo has been without any entries in the Big Wave Awards for the last few years, or that freesurfer clips out of Tahiti have been sparse. That's because, as Tahitian Tikanui Smith said back in April, "It's been a long time since we've had good swell here. Couple of years maybe. At least."
It's not like there's been no swell at Teahupoo, just a surprising lack of consistency with long bouts of small waves punctuated by a lone swell before returning to another extended run of mediocrity. The Tahiti Open has suffered without the big heavy stuff - the last really big year was 2014 with KS and Gabs in the final.
Asked when the last great Teahupoo season was, Swellnet forecaster Craig Brokensha said 2015. "That was when the Point Break footage with Laurie Towner and Dylan Longbottom was filmed, with multiple tow swells in the year."
Long time local Simon Thornton puts it even further back, saying this year is, "Probably the best season since 2014. In 2015 Owen [Wright] came a few times and there was some nice swells, but I'd say it's the best in five years."
You can argue the record, but everyone agrees this year has been stellar. Shortly after Smith bemoaned the lack of swell, an extraordinary run of waves began with a new crew of Teahupoo locals taking the talent level into the stratosphere. We're still yet to see a true blue tow-only swell, but the number of double to triple-overhead days is far beyond anything seen since 2015.
"Teahupoo loves swell from cold fronts that are steered up and past New Zealand's East Coast," explains Brokensha, "these provide the really big, thick, and frightening west bowl sets. There was one of these a couple of weeks ago, but most of the swells have been produced just a little further east and south, producing more perfect and southerly swells in the 8-10ft range."
Either way, for good swell at Teahupoo the Long Wave Trough has to be positioned east of New Zealand, and this has been the case more times than not over the last few months.
So the big question, of course, is whether the bumper year will continue for another month? The Tahiti Open starts in a bit over three weeks.
"Well, currently we've got the opposite of what you want for Teahupoo, which could be a blessing in disguise," says Brokensha. Some downtime now could mean the reef is again due some energy by the time the pros arrive.
"Cut-off lows are sitting in Tahiti's swell window, producing large and rare pulses of easterly groundswell for New Zealand. This is due to a large upper blocking pattern. This is a worst case scenario for Teahupoo."
"However, as we move into the start of August, a strong new node [of the Long Wave Trough] is forecast to develop just east of New Zealand, sending large surf towards Tahiti for the 7-10th of August, a week and a bit before it kicks off on the 21st."
Last year Toledo grabbed some heavy water experience arriving in Tahiti two weeks before the competition started. He got the waves, took some punishment, but ultimately didn't need it as the contest was held in small surf.
Hopefully he's been watching the charts this year.
(Homepage photo of FT at Teahupoo taken last year by Dominic Mosquera)