Owen Wright has squandered his chance to climb to the top of the World Surf League standings as he was thrashed in the Billabong Pro semi-final, with Jeremy Flores eventually taking the title.
Frenchman Flores (16.87) held his nerve in the final against defending champion Gabriel Medina (13.20), pulling off a steep drop into a barrel and an impressive exit for a near-perfect 9.87 wave score in Tahiti on Tuesday.
It is the second WSL Tour win and first since 2010 for the 27-year-old, who eliminated both 11-time American world champion Kelly Slater and his menacing compatriot CJ Hobgood on the way to victory.
Flores achieved the result against the odds, surfing the entire event in a helmet as he continues to recover from the brutal skull fracture he sustained during a free surf session in Indonesia in June.
It wasn’t such a positive day for Australia’s three remaining contestants, with Wright, Kai Otton and Josh Kerr all eliminated at the iconic reef break of Teahupo’o.
Wright went down to Medina 16.63 to 8.70 in their semi-final.
The world No.5, who had little time to improve both his scores and mount any kind of challenge, narrowly botched some pivotal waves right at the end of the heat.
“I’m pretty disappointed that I didn’t go through,” Wright said.
“Teahupo’o is sometimes a game of millimetres, and there was two waves that I fell off on right at the exit that I believe would have got me the scores to get me through the heat.”
Had Wright advanced to the final, he would have replaced Brazilian ratings leader Adriano de Souza.
He was one of three Australian title contenders, along with Mick Fanning and Julian Wilson, to have missed an opportunity in Tahiti to capitalise on De Souza’s round-three elimination.
“I wasn’t even really thinking about that (the series standings),” Wright said.
“I kind of was just revelling in the fact I get another heat out at `Teahps’, especially against good mate Gabi.”
Otton and Kerr were bundled out in the quarter-finals.
Otton was eliminated by Medina 15.67 to 11.00, while Kerr (11.16) was pipped by Hobgood (12.90) in the last minute of their contest.