Surfers get 'best waves of our lives' at dress rehearsal for Olympic venue in Tahiti

After days of barreling along the huge waves of Tahiti's island paradise, French Polynesian surfer Vahine Fierro has even more reason to look forward to this summer's Olympics.

Fierro and Italo Ferreira of Brazil won the World Surf League Championship Tour event in Teahupoʻo on Tahiti this week as surfers got a taste of the tropical venue that will host the surfing events for the Paris Olympics.

While Fierro is from these parts, even she was impressed.

“Thank you Teahupoʻo for sending me the best waves of my life,” Fierro said.

The event garnered the attention of the entire surfing community as many of the world's best surfers went head to head for the title at the Shiseido Tahiti Pro. The spectacular waves, set against a backdrop of lush green tropical mountains of French Polynesia, provided a tantalizing preview of what's in store for both athletes and viewers when the Olympics start in July.

In the women's competition, Fierro beat No. 1-ranked Brisa Hennessy from Costa Rica 15.17-12.00 in the final, with Fierro getting an impressive 8.50 score for one of her wave rides. Fierro is not ranked in the league's top 10 but was given a wild-card entry to the event, and raved about the waves.

“It was the perfect amount of energy," Fierro said. "Like not too big, but just enough to push us and you know, and try. And we all tried. We all had big wipeouts we went in the lagoon, we came back, tried again and just got the best waves of our lives.”

Fierro became the first Tahitian wild card to claim a victory at the internationally famous surfing site, according to the World Surf League.

In the men's competition, Ferreira beat top-ranked John John Florence of the United States 17.70-17.16 as the two rode waves between six and 10 feet. Ferreira is ranked No. 5 in the league.

“I'm was like waiting for my moment here ... I knew that I can do it here and right now it’s my moment and I’m really stoked,” Ferreira said. “I’m back, baby.”

Ferreira is a former world champion and the win maintained his chances of securing a second world title.

Events are comprised of rounds made up of heats, with surfers looking to lock in their two highest-scoring waves. Each run can score up to 10 points for a possible 20-point heat total. A panel of five judges scores each wave ride based on factors including degree of difficulty, manuevers, speed and flow.

For every scoring ride, the highest and lowest scores are discounted and the surfer receives the average of the remaining three scores. The two best-scoring waves are added together to become a surfer’s heat total.

Scoring history was also made at the event: Despite her loss to Fierro earlier in the competition, Tatiana Weston-Webb of Brazil became the first woman to earn a perfect score for a ride at the Tahiti Pro.

Several of the competitors in the latest World Surf League competition have qualified to attend the Olympics, including Fierro and Tokyo 2020 women's gold medalist Carissa Moore.

Concerns about the Olympic competition's impact on the area's environment have been front and center in the lead-up to the Games. Hundreds of people are expected to descend upon the small island for the Games. Critics on the island have also voiced fears for coral reefs, fish and other aquatic life where a viewing tower's foundations are being drilled into the seabed and mounted on concrete. In response, the Olympic committee has agreed to scale back the size of the tower.

Other infrastructure on the small island is getting prepared for the Games as well, including renovation of a hotel, a footbridge to replace an old and dangerous one and a renovated marina and road access to the sea.

During the Games, the surfers and their support staff will be housed on an already existing local ship. Paris organizers aren’t selling any tickets for the surfing events in Tahiti and say that for anyone who does try to travel there anyway to try to catch a bit of the atmosphere without a ticket, there’s likely to be only “very limited” accommodation options.

The next stop on the World Surf League Championship Tour is scheduled to be June 6-15 in Punta Roca, El Salvador. The final event of the tour is scheduled for September, in San Clemente California.

____ AP reporter John Leicester contributed from Paris.


AP Summer Olympics: