It was a long, hard day on the reef at Teahupo'o. Heats were decided by persevering rail work rather than wide-open barrels, requiring strategy and disciplined surfing from the field.
And at the conclusion of Round 4 -- only three heats left, they'll run in a single day -- the stories being told at the End of the Road were about the passion of Filipe Toledo and the departure of Joel Parkinson.
"I think, for the first time, he looks comfortable at Teahupo ," said Parko when asked about Toledo's recent performances.
The statement subtly signaled a changing of the guard. As Toledo blitzed through Rounds 3 and 4, Parko surfed his last heat in Tahiti.
"It's over out here for me. It's been an amazing journey, an amazing ride," reflected Parko from the channel after losing to countryman Owen Wright in Round 3.
Barreling into the Quarterfinals, at 28 years old, Wright is one of only two surfers remaining in the draw over the age of 25. Thirty-year-old Jeremy Flores will be the other old man at the dance party come Finals day.
Meanwhile, the next generation has undoubtedly arrived. By no means are they strangers to the spotlight. Toledo, Gabriel Medina, Kolohe Andino are all under 25 and have been stars of the sport for years. Anyone of them could win the Tahiti Pro with the tack-sharp, laser-focused surfing they've been doing.
"This is not Teahupo'o we were dreaming of, but it's still really fun," explained a spry Toledo.
The energy and emotion Toledo's been surfing with is a far cry from previous years when he found himself relegated to the channel punching his board. In this contest we're witnessing the maturation of a World Title contender. After spending the lay day yesterday swimming and bodysurfing Teahupo'o, today he looked especially at ease on the quad-fin setup he opted to ride.
Toledo's biggest hurdle may be fellow Brazilian Medina. A former World Champ and Tahiti Pro champ, he's been methodically surfing with ice in his veins. Going into the Tahiti Pro, Toledo had a sub-par 30-percent winning percentage at Teahupo'o, while Medina's hovers just above 75-percent. The question is, with Toledo riding high on his current breakout performance, has he peaked too early or will Medina's cool, calculated approach eventually prevail? We'll find out soon enough.
By the end of the day, after firing through 16 heats, the World Title race also started to take a little bit more shape. With Toledo and Medina still going, potential contender Jordy Smith fell out of the comp in Round 3 and will slide further back in the ratings. And in the last heat of the day, Italo Ferreira threw up a couple go-for-broke airs and turned the heat to keep his dreams alive.
By the time the Tahiti Pro is done, the 2018 race will be fronted by three Brazilian surfers -- all of whom have put in exceptional performances at the Surf Ranch, the next tour stop.
And then there's surprises like rookies Michael February and Wade Carmichael. Neither of them had any experience at Teahupoo going into the Tahiti Pro, but now they're into the quarters and bound for big results.
With Smith losing to February in Round 3, that opens the door for Carmichael to climb into the top five in the ratings. For February, he's bound for his best result ever as a Championship Tour surfer.
"More of those would be nice," smiled February after locking into an 8.93 barrel for the best score of the day.
"That's the best wave I've ever caught here," he added.
Needless to say, the final day of the Tahiti Pro will be packed with intrigue. Can Toledo go the distance? Can Medina take his second Tahiti Pro title? Can Ferreira keep up? Will a young upstart steal the show? Or could a savvy, old vet like Wright or Flores spoil the party?
We'll just have to wait for the next call to find out.