Italo Ferreira of Brazil reacts after finishing first place in the SHISEIDO Tahiti Pro. GETTY IMAGES

Italo Ferreira, the reigning Olympic champion but not qualified for the Paris Olympics this summer, caused an upset on Thursday by winning the Tahiti Pro with flair on the majestic wave of Teahupo'o.

In the final, the 30-year-old Brazilian and 2019 world surfing champion defeated John John Florence, who was the favourite for this elite circuit event held at the future Olympic site with its translucent and dangerous waves. Thanks to two tubes scored 8.93 and 8.77 by the judges, for a total of 17.70, he was more consistent than the 31-year-old American, who had the best wave of the series (9.33) but achieved a total score of 17.16.

“I am so happy, it was a long day and we had so many good waves (...) I built up momentum as the series went on. For the past few years, I have been training to better master the tubes and it paid off today,” he explained. In 2021, this proud representative of the “Brazilian Storm,” the Brazilian wave that has been shaking up the world of surfing for nearly a decade, made history by winning gold in the sport’s first appearance at the Tokyo Olympics.

Ferreira, who learned to surf as a child on a piece of polystyrene, has had a mixed post-Olympic period, marked by physical setbacks, a second place in the overall world championship standings in 2022, and only one victory on the pro tour in 2023. He secured his first career victory in Tahiti on Thursday and his first win of the year. He is now ranked fifth in the world, still far behind his opponent of the day, John John Florence, the new leaderboard leader.

Faced with competition from Brazil, Ferreira failed to qualify for the Paris Olympics, which will be held in Teahupo'o from 27 July to 5 August. His country, the dominant surfing nation, will be represented by Gabriel Medina, Joao Chianca and Filipe Toledo.

French Olympic surfer, Vahine Fierro,became the first Frenchwoman to win the women’s Tahiti Pro on the waves of Teahupo'o this Wednesday, just two months before the Olympic surfing events to be held on the French Pacific island.

Teahupo'o is a small village in the southwest of the Tahiti peninsula, with misty mountains as a backdrop, where a few hundred residents annually welcome elite surfers and their teams in their wooden bungalows. The organisers of the Paris Olympics were impressed by the postcard landscape in 2021 when Teahupo'o was designated as an Olympic site, generating both enthusiasm and concern among the local population, mainly for environmental reasons.

One point of contention was the installation of a new aluminium tower for judges in the lagoon, which was ultimately approved despite local community objections and is being used for the first time this week. Environmentalists had raised the alarm (organising marches, protests, and petition drives, although they failed to halt the construction) after a barge used by construction workers damaged the coral that forms part of the seabed at the site. However, local organisers say the situation has calmed down.

After a period of controversy, the judges' tower in Teahupo'o (Tahiti), set to be utilised during this summer's Olympic surfing competition, was prepared to cater to the World Surf League on Saturday during a stop on the World Circuit. Olympic chief Tony Estanguet expressed his contentment, stating he was "satisfied to see this structure erected." 

"From up there, the view is perfect for judging, it's a structure that's necessary for this competition," Tony Estanguet told AFP after climbing the aluminium structure in front of the wave and its turquoise water tubes.