It was the best surf the ASP's Teahupoo, Tahiti contest has seen in at least five years, though most people say ... ever.
Peaking at 15-18ft on one day, organizers were forced to put the event on hold while hell men and women from around the globe tried their luck on cartoon waves. As Kelly Slater said of the mid-event lay-day, "It's amazing no one died."
But the tow-session wasn't even the highlight. The heats that ran on the days before and after were some of the most spectacular seen in any contest ever as the world's best competitive surfers were well and truly put on the spot.
10-12ft Teahupoo, with just one other to share it with, is a dream/nightmare scenario for any surfer, but especially for those chosen few who get paid handsomely to roam the world representing big clothing companies. Are they actually worth the hype? Can they handle the REAL DEAL?
Amazingly, all the surfers in the event stepped up. Even the massive early-round losses for the top 5 in this year's world title race - Taj Burrow, Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, Jordy Smith and Adriano da Silva – wasn't a reflection of their ballsiness or lack of it. Everyone charged, but sometimes fate, Nature and tactics made the difference.
After the top-seed rout, there was one guy chuckling his way into the Quarter Finals. A man named Robert Kelly Slater, 10-time champ but until that point, only no. 6 in the world. Slater admitted he'd been "lurking" in the event up to that point, but at each step towards the final he increased the gas, if not outshining the remaining contenders, then joining them in the spotlight.
Those other contenders were a fine group of unexpected superheroes:
Josh Kerr - known as an aerialist, a small-wave innovator and a short, chirpy family man – was, by the quarters, possibly the stand-out of the event, not just charging the huge barrels on offer, but threading them with uncommon skill and inappropriate poise.
Travis Logie – he shouldn't have been there at all but got gifted the slot given up by an absent Bobby Martinez. He worked his way through heat after heat, after re-run (his Round 3 heat was stopped when Jordy dislocated a rib, then restarted when Jordy paddled back out to beast his way through some winning tubes, holding his rib, of course. But heats aren't supposed to stop when one surfer gets injured, so the Logie camp's protest led to a re-run, which Travis rightly won).
Brett Simpson, a classic SoCal/Huntington Beach pop-out pro, you may think, was discovered to have enormous testicles, huge tactical savvy and impeccable backhand tube-riding abilities.
Owen Wright, a second-year Aussie pro who rode like the wind through giant, distended tunnels and emerged with the spit time and again looking like the gods had winged his heels.
The finals saw KS versus the angel Owen, the young gun pushing for high 9s and finding them, or nearly, while Slater roamed the lineup like a hungry shark, answering Wright's score every time, squeaking out of one gigantic high-line barrel then turning a smaller, sectioning drainer into a cloak of invisibility as he pulled under its lipped and just disappeared until the wave was about to go dry.
With 3 minutes to go Slater had priority, and the lead, so when Wright paddled for one a little further out, the 10-time world champ had to use his priority to claim it back off him, resulting in a horrendous journey over the falls, backwards. No damage done, except that Slater got washed into the reef leaving Wright out back with plenty of time to snag the last bomb of the event.
It came, Wright went, he pumped high, pulling at the air with his lanky arms and projecting himself through the cavern like he'd done all event, only to get clipped somewhere deep inside, his dream-run rag-dolling with him into oblivion.
So Kelly Slater justly won the crown. But in the end, most everyone agrees, Teahupoo was the star.
Postscript: Robert Kelly Slater now leads the 2011 ASP World Tour by 450 points. New York next, then five more after that.