Quiksilver Pro France: The women glow under a harvest moon
Look, it might just be me, but apart from the obvious exceptions of Margaret River and Jeffrey’s Bay, the 2017 WCT season has had more than its fair share of meh. The year started out well. I wouldn’t say the Australian leg was all-time, but it was definitely above average. Snapper and Bells were somewhere in the mid-good range, while Margarets, and TwoJohn’s performance there, silenced all but the most vociferous opponents to its inclusion in the schedule (yeah Steve, and who’s going to say no to a government sponsored event…).
But with the exception of Jeffreys Bay, the middle of the season hasn’t exactly been compulsive viewing. Sure, there were some decent waves at Cloudbreak, but we the viewing public are a fickle bunch and unless it’s at least close to the standard set in 2012, it doesn’t really raise our pulse rate like it used to. Similarly, the code red day at Teahupo’o has spoiled all comps held there since, from a lounge-lizard’s perspective, and this year it was about as far as it gets from that historic session (code brown, or is that the next level above red?).
At least J-Bay held up its end of the bargain and reminded us just how good a surf contest at one of the world’s premier breaks can be. It had everything - epic waves, paradigm shifting performances, shark scares, a boat driver with a death wish and cojones the size of watermelons, and an almost completely unexpected result.
And while we’re on the subject - what a year it’s turning out to be for South Africa. As we enter the final act for season ’17, there’s a genuine chance that they could be welcoming home their first world champion since the 70s (let’s just leave Pottz and Wendy Botha out of the conversation for now). But to win, Jordy needs consistently good results in the remaining events. Which brings us to France.
If Jordy wants to stand any chance of retaining the yellow rashie, he’s got some pretty major hurdles to overcome. Most come with two arms, two legs and their own desire for the crown, but he’s also having to deal with his own brain which, if it’s anything like mine (and who’s to say it’s not), is maintaining a constant monologue telling him he’s going to fuck it up at any minute.
France isn’t Jordy’s favourite break, if his past results are anything to go by. Two semi finals appearances, in 2011 & 2014, are the best he’s managed. He’s going to have to at least repeat this outcome, if not improve on it if he wants to stand any chance of lifting the big cup at the end of the year.
Meanwhile, over on the Women's side, Sally Fitzgibbon is becoming the modern day Cheyne Horan, in that she’s come close so many times but never managed to make it to the top of the heap. But in 2017 she’s arrived in Landes wearing the yellow rashie (it’s true, I’ve seen the footage from Biarritz airport) and fucked if she’s going to let any of those others take it from her.
She’d taken it off for yesterday’s media conference, but there was a distance in her eyes that told me it wasn’t that far from her mind. I’d hate to be up against her in a heat, to be honest. You can just tell she wants this title so much. Every time I’ve seen her this year I haven’t been able to shake the impression that she wished she was wearing 6oz gloves and just wanted to pound the face of whoever was nearest to her. She’s always smiling, but this year it’s not really reaching her eyes.
The morning of the first day of the waiting period dawned cold under a waning harvest moon. It was windblown and messy yesterday, but despite the adverse conditions you could see that the contest bank at La Graviere had good bones. When the sets came through there were some relatively decent looking waves rolling in on the outside and plenty of cover-ups in the shorebreak. This morning we arrived to discover that the wind had shifted and dropped about 15 degrees - it was offshore and corduroy to the horizon. With conditions this good, it had to run. As it was, they managed to run the first two rounds of the women’s event on Day One (check the WSL site for all results. Despite the smaller than ideal conditions, there are already some signs of who will be a threat in the rounds to come (spoiler - no surprises):
- Brazil’s Silvana Lima smashed her round one heat out of the water, racking up the round’s top score and taking down Sally Fitz in the process. Her recent win in the USA seems to have given her the self-belief to back up the underlying motivation that having to sell her home to stay on the tour has given her.
- Courtney Conlogue looked typically dangerous and will only become more so if the swell size increases.
- Steph Gilmore drew Carissa Moore in her first round hit-out and the two traded blows throughout, with Steph coming up the eventual winner by the thickness of a cigarette paper. Both will bear watching as the comp progresses. I felt sorry for Coco Ho, undeniably a top-tier surfer in her own right, who got caught up in the feeding frenzy that occurred when the competitiveness of these two former world champs intersected.
- Carissa went on to remove local hope Pauline Ado from the event in Round Two with two well-deserved 9+ scores. In her post-heat interview Carissa was all smiles, saying about the first round loss something along the lines of “it was great to be able to get out and just have a surf”, but you could tell she hated losing that heat and poor old Pauline suffered the projected consequences of Carissa’s discontent.
- Tyler Wright, despite her injury, managed to come away with a first round win and can never be discounted. Check out her post-heat interview for her thoughts on what appears to be a near-miracle recovery from a 70% tear of her MCL (medial collateral ligament, apparently).
But enough nuts and bolts. We’re in France, for Christ’s sake!
When I was a grommet back in the last century France was the one leg of the world tour in which I really wished I could be a participant. Tales of debauchery and misdeeds filled the Australian surf media of the day and it sounded like serious fun. These days it’s all a bit staid. The WSL takes things waaaaay more seriously than the ASP of eras past and with so much more on the line, in terms of both reputation and earnings, the surfers do too.
WADA’s list of prohibited substances, to which the WSL adheres, is fairly clear that the behaviours described above would not be ok in today’s professional surfing atmosphere. Skip past the anabolic agents, gene manipulation and Beta-2 Agonists (ummm?) and you’ll discover that things like Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), cocaine and most opioids get a frowny face, as do all cannabinoids, both natural and synthetic. While surfing under the influence of alcohol is not explicitly banned, it’s never a good idea anyway (don’t ask me how I know) and the WADA rules do forbid it in the following pursuits; Air Sports, Automobile, Archery and Powerboating. Let’s face it, if this contest is not decided under and behind the lip, it’ll be won above it - so that effectively puts a line through alcohol too.
I’d like to say that I’m taking up the baton and indulging in hedonism reminiscent of days of yore, but sadly, I’m getting a bit old for all of that. My few remaining vices aren’t banned by WADA - they’re hardly even frowned upon by my wife. They’d probably just earn me a sympathetic pat on the shoulder and a sad shake of the head.
The Basque coast of France is a visually stunning location for a surf contest. As you look left from the verandah outside the media bunker, the mountains of the Pyrenees meld with the Cordillera Cantabrica to form the backdrop to the beaches, resorts and golf courses that stretch from the event site south to the Spanish border. The region is renowned for its seafood, cider, wine and cheese, and I gained three kilograms just by inhaling when I first entered the Biarritz market.
It’s the holiday playground for France’s rich and famous, populated by beautiful people who speak two main languages, both of which I find utterly incomprehensible. However, I’ve heard more Aussie accents in the last two days than in the entire six months of travelling, so I’m holding my own in the communication stakes. The surfers, however, I do know - by sight, at least. It’s a who’s who - of course it is - and it’s pretty daunting to be strolling around amongst people who until now I’ve only ever seen on a screen.
But it wasn’t the CT crew who really made my day yesterday. No, my big fanboy moment came at the press call after the millennial top five of both genders broke off for their interviews with the world’s media, leaving the stage clear for Tom Carroll and Ross Clark-Jones, who joined Peter Mel on the mic. I think they were there to launch something - some piece of big wave paraphernalia - for the event sponsor, but for me it was if two of my childhood heroes had stepped out of the posters on my teenaged-self’s bedroom wall and onto the sand in front of me.
Tommy’s looking fit after his recent surgery and could have cracked walnuts with his biceps. Ross…not so much, but the guy’s won the Eddie for fuck’s sake. Give him a break! I didn’t embarrass myself by trying to speak to them and instead sat two rows back and grinned stupidly as they went about their business. Cool.