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Qualifier downs Wilkinson in Tahiti surf

AAP logoAAP 21/08/2016

Australia's surfing world championship leader Matt Wilkinson has come off second best against dangerous qualifier Bruno Santos on the opening day at Teahupoo in Tahiti.

Brazilian Santos, who won the 2008 Teahupoo title as qualifier, proved too strong for Wilkinson and Stuart Kennedy in their heat, advancing direct to round three and relegating the Australian pair to sudden-death second round competition.

"I love Tahiti, not just Teahupoo," said Santos.

"It is my favourite wave for sure, but I love this place, the people and my family here. I feel confident in Tahiti because all my best results have been here.

"When you come from the trials, it is like a warmup and you feel better and stronger."

Kai Otton, Adrian Buchan and Adam Melling were the only Australians to win first round heats.

They were joined, among others, by 11-times world champion Kelly Slater, Hawaii's John John Florence, Brazil's Gabriel Medina and defending champion Jeremy Flores (France).

Melling closed out the round with the day's second highest heat score of 17.67 which included the highest single-wave score of the day, a near-perfect 9.67.

Second in the championship standings, Florence stole the show with a blistering display of tube riding, earning a near perfect 18.40 points for two rides.

"That score gives me a lot of confidence," Florence said.

"I do not feel any pressure at all. To go surf these open, perfect barrels with only three guys out is insane. If anything, I am more excited than pressured."

Third in the standings, Medina dominated his heat against rookies Conner Coffin (USA) and Alex Ribeiro (BRA).

Flores was too good for Julian Wilson (AUS) and Nat Young (USA).

Otton defeated reigning world champion Adriano de Souza and another Brazilian, Miguel Pupo.

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