Surfing-Tahiti Pro kicks off with Olympic warning from local Fierro

Tahitian surfer Vahine Fierro is seen surfing her heat at the Sydney Surf Pro at Narrabeen Beach, Narrabeen, Sydney, Australia May 19, 2023. REUTERS/Lincoln Feast/File Photo

(Reuters) - Tahitian surfer Vahine Fierro showed what a threat she will be at the 2024 Olympics with a commanding first round performance at the Games venue of Teahupo'o on Saturday, as the professional tour's Shisheido Tahiti Pro kicked off.

The 23-year-old wildcard, who qualified to represent France at Paris 2024, threaded two glorious tubes at her home break including a 9.33 points out of a possible 10 to send world tour leader and fellow Olympian Caitlin Simmers of the United States packing. Fierro's heat total of 16.13 out of 20 was the highest of the day.

"Today, it's the first time in this event that I ever get that good of a wave," a beaming Fierro said. "The waves are kind of slow but when they come, (such) good waves!"

Hawaii's John John Florence, who will represent Team USA at the Olympics in two months' time, was a standout on the men's draw, but was looking ahead to even bigger, better waves forecast for a few days' time.

"I love coming back here and being able to surf this amazing wave," he said after dominating his first round match up with Indonesia's Rio Waida and Brazil's Yago Dora.

"It looks like we have a lot of good swell coming, so I'm super excited for that. Hopefully, it's like it was a few years back when it was 10 foot, non-stop."

Kelly Slater, the 11-time world champion who was granted a wildcard after missing the mid-year cut, was another standout. The 52-year-old sent reigning Tahiti Pro champion Jack Robinson and Morocco's Ramzi Boukhiam to the elimination round with the men's second-highest heat score of the day.

A potent mix of beauty and brutality, Teahupo'o has long been a favoured stop on the professional world tour with Slater claiming a record five wins at what is also known as "the end of the road".

But the powerful waves and shallow reef have taken lives and injured top surfers including Australia's Ethan Ewing, who fractured two vertebrae in a warm up for the Tahiti Pro last year.

Olympics governing body the International Surfing Association this week recommended surfers wear protective headware when competing at Teahupo'o during the Games, which will run from July 27-August 8.

(Reporting by Lincoln Feast in Sydney; Editing by Sonali Paul)

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