In the closest and most finely pitched final of 2007, Teahupo’o master Damien Hobgood just got the better of current WCT leader Mick Fanning today to take out the Billabong Pro Tahiti. The event’s last day was a great success after everyone voted to extend the waiting period, to take advantage of a new southwest groundswell. That meant today’s seven heats took place in solid four to six foot barrels. Damien showed an ultra-cool head and a lovely subtle sense of the reef to pick magic waves at just the right time, including his closing ride, which put him in front with a minute too go and sealed the win. SURFING spoke to him a few minutes afterward on the point at Chopes. —Nick Carroll
ING: Damien I know you’re a sports fan so you’ll appreciate this statistic: in the last 25 events, only three have been won from the second loser’s round, and two of ‘em have been by YOU. Did you know about this?
DH: The funny thing is I did! But I forgot about it today. I was talking to (stats guy Mike Newman) about that whole theory at Bells. In the beginning, I thought about it a lot. I don’t know if you remember my first heat, but the commentators were taking the piss out of me because I had a wave that shoulda won the heat, and I couldn’t sleep for a week after that wave. It was eating me up, man. It was like a walk in the park and I just tripped and fell on my face. Then I had a heat with Hira and was able to get some good waves, and I was able to put it out of my head. But it was hard, you know, we waited for a week, and I was pretty bummed.
ING: Now, how did you handle that week?
DH: You know I love surfing, so even though it was pretty small I pretty much surfed every day. I had my little brother here with me, and I think he was the one person who was actually loving the small stuff. It was really perfect for him, and there’s always something about when someone else is stoked, you know. Then YOU’RE stoked. So I really felt like it was rad to have him here, ‘cause even though the waves sucked, he’d kick out after a one foot wave, and he’d be stoked! So I was amped. He wanted to surf so I went surfing with him.
ING: So, this is Travis, your little brother, who used to sit at home watching the webcasts yelling “You guys suck! Why didn’t you get that 6.8?” or whatever. What did he think of the real thing?
DH: Well, he came here last year and he was hooked. I mean you see it at home but I think once he saw it live, he was…Last year we waited a long time too and I thought he’d be over coming back, but we’re like “You wanna come back?” He was like, “I wouldn’t miss it!”
ING: So you come to a final day like this, can you walk us through your day?
DH: You know you go through events, as I’m sure most competitors have, and you kinda gain some momentum, and just feel like when you need a wave, a wave comes. When you don’t want any waves to come, the ocean lulls out for ya. The first heat I had today against Jeremy Flores, I felt more on the ropes than I did in any heat in the contest. But there’s always a point you come to, and if you can get through that point, then you feel like you can do it, and I got a second chance on life in that heat. I made a little error, then Flores made a little error, and I felt like I had a chance, a really good chance.
ING: Were you watching anyone else closely today?
DH: I wasn’t really, but I had a look at the draw when the seedings went down in round three, and I saw my bracket, and I definitely wasn’t that stoked to be on that side of the bracket. (On Damo’s side was Parko, AI, Mick Campbell, Bruce Irons and Kelly Slater.) But right when I was thinking, “OK I’m gonna have to step it up here,” Kelly ended up losing, then when I was thinking I might get Andy in the semis, Andy ended up losing. Once again, not only were the waves coming my way, but I was thinkING: “These guys are going down, I’ve gotta take advantage of this.”
ING: In the final you really needed a wave to come your way. Mick kinda had you until the last minute. What were you thinking at that point?
DH: Well, I heard what I needed, I think I needed an 8.2 or something, and I was thinking, “As long as it’s a set and it’s got what I’m looking for, I can get that easy.” They were going kinda flat for most of the heat but there were some bombs coming toward the end and I was like, “One’s coming! One’s coming!” A couple of ‘em were too big. They just faded off the end. Bt even though there was only a minute left I always felt like I was in there with a chance — that I would get to roll the dice one last time.
(Right then little brother Travis comes up and gives Damien a big hug…)
1 Damien Hobgood
2 Mick Fanning
3 Joel Parkinson, Kai Otton
5 Andy Irons, Jeremy Flores, Luke Stedman, Cory Lopez
Mick Fanning now holds a strong lead on the WCT rankings, with nothing less than a third placing so far in 2007. Taj Burrow is the only surfer near him on adjusted rankings in this shortened year. Only 10 events will be held instead of the customary 12, and each surfer’s top 8 will count to their final score.