Quik Pro France: Float like a jellyfish, sting like a wasp
The swell has definitely arrived this morning and so hungry were the assembled freesurfers that the contest organisers had trouble clearing the peak in the lead up to the first heat of the men’s Round 1. The jetski drivers were eventually issued with cattle prods and the rabble was driven grudgingly northwards.
The forerunners of today’s waves arrived just after lunch yesterday, thankfully before the onshore winds. Sitting out the back at around 2pm, it seemed a funny, disjointed swell. I hadn’t seen a great deal of sea life during my infrequent ventures into the surf here, until yesterday, when a plague of jellyfish descended on this little stretch of coastline. Interesting note: Apparently the collective noun for jellyfish is a Fluther. Apparently Stu Kennedy copped one in the head during a lay-day freesurf - just an individual mind you, not the whole fluther. Apparently it didn’t affect his surfing much, as you’ll find out later in the report.
Dangerous animals are not the first things that spring to mind when you think of France, particularly in a surfing context (jellyfish being the exception). However, at one point while I was struggling to catch a wave yesterday, I swear I heard the opening bars of Ride of the Valkyries ringing across the water, so I turned towards the beach and coming towards me was a hornet the size of my thumb, bobbing around, its engines sputtering. It flew up and land squarely on my chest, clearly exhausted and probably regretting its decision to fly out to sea. I was not altogether pleased with its choice of perch, especially after a set wave washed through, forcing me to paddle for the horizon. The frelon, as they’re known around here, also uncomfortable with the situation, decided higher ground was called for and proceeded to crawl upwards, using my neck as a ladder to reach my scalp, where it settled in.
My neighbour, a young Frenchman, found the situation pretty amusing. “You don’t like it?” he asked. “Don’t worry, if it sting you, you can go to l’hospital.”
Yeah, merci mon ami. Helpful. Thankfully I survived the encounter with nothing more than a stiff neck and French mockery ringing in my ears.
But enough about me, we’re here for the comp…
The pros must be stoked after the last couple of contests to have waves of this calibre to play with, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t expect to also be competing against the jetski crew. First it was Stu Kennedy testing out the structural integrity of those Tomo boards. He climbed aboard expecting to be ferried out beyond the break, but instead he was forced to cling to the sled with white knuckles while the driver attempted a floater in the shorebreak, leaving them both beached. Stu abandoned ship at this point and spent the paddle back out alternately shaking his head in disbelief and checking over his board for damage.
The next ski incident involved a yellow-shirted Jordy Smith. The driver collected him from the whitewash then chose to play chicken with an approaching set. He was gunning for it, then, maybe realising he had the ratings leader in his care, pulled out at the last second. I think Jordy was so disappointed in the driver’s lack of courage that he let go of the handles and flew backwards into the lip at high velocity. The wind turned onshore momentarily as 5000 people on the beach inhaled in unison.
Jordy jumping ship
Thankfully both surfers emerged unscathed from their respective mishaps and even went on to snatch first round victories, earning themselves a rest while two thirds of the field entered the fighting pits of the second round (last GOT reference, I promise).
Mind you, I’m not suggesting that the ski riders are actively trying to maim the competitors - not all of them anyway. They’ve got a tough job in these fickle beach breaks. At one point in Heat 10 all three surfers had caught waves and were either sitting or lying on the back of a ski, wanting to get back out to catch some more waves. But the ocean wasn’t having any of it. A giant set of 8-10 waves washed through. From where I was standing on the verandah of the media box I could just see blue water beyond where the waves were breaking, but from the surfers’ perspective at sea level it would have been all white to the horizon. They lost almost five minutes trying to get back out and the skis were almost out of view, both north and south, as they sought a passage through to the peak.
My favourite competitive moment from Round 1 was not Italo Ferreira’s opening rotation (9.5) or TwoJohn’s giant slob air (what does that even mean?). No, it came in the fourth heat of the round when the siren sounded and rookie Ethan Ewing came away with the win, just outscoring Brazilian Caio Ibelli. Ethan, a 19yo from North Stradbroke Island, is in a pretty serious battle to retain his place in the WCT and he hasn't backed himself up on the QS, so he needs every heat win he can get. Even this non-elimination victory has to have given him a bit more confidence going into the rest of this comp and the run into Hawaii and he looked stoked as he wandered back into the competitors’ area. He’ll be back in Round 3 to see if he can keep up the momentum into the later rounds.
Round 2 was, of course, a bloody affair full of disappointment and relief in equal measure. Having seen him up close, I've realised that local wildcard Marc Lacomare is built a bit like a gladiator and he put his Channel Islands axe to the heart of Julian Wilson. Our Jules, who came into the event in third place and already carrying two throwaway 13th places, wasn’t happy with the 25th place result. It's a big blow for a title aspirer and just by winning their Round 1 heats, Jordy and TwoJohns - numbers 1 and 2 in the world - put some clear air between themselves and Jules. Jules now has his work cut out for him now if he has any hope of wearing the crown at the end of the season.
Others who won’t be progressing include… nah, forget it. You don’t need me to tell you who won and who lost. You can check out all the results on the WSL website and watch it all wave for wave.
Filipe is the only man to have won two events this year, but some poor results in other contests, a brain fade in Brazil and now a rib injury here in France have put paid to his title chase. He looked like he was genuinely in pain while preparing for his heat, and as someone who spent three months or more recovering from a rib injury earlier this year, I felt for him, but his heat against fellow Brazilian Miguel Pupo, who is also carrying an injury and also fighting to hold on to his spot on the CT, was underwhelming at best. There were no J'Bay gymnastics here.
Miguel will meet another of the Brazilian contingent, De Souza, in Round 3. Sitting in sixth on the rankings, Adriano is turning every encounter into a challenge as he tries to calibrate his title chase, even applying his blank-faced determination to a post-heat interview with Rosy Hodge. The mental effort it must have taken him not to smile, or even blush a little bit, in the face of our favourite female commentator betrays a serious competitor - or an automaton, you choose. Either way, ADS took down Josh Kerr to progress.
ADS and Rosy in happier times
If ADS is emotionless, then Josh Kerr is pretty pissed off. He's sitting just a spot higher than Ethan Ewing at 35th, yet he’s in the best form he’s shown in years. He just can’t clear the first couple of rounds. At least he’s having fun watching his daughter Sierra develop into a little ripper in her own right. She was here today carrying his boards and seems to have built her own fan club. The fans wanted more selfies with her than with her dad. At one point Rosy interviewed Sierra and aked what advice she's giving her Dad. "Complete your turns!" said Sierra. Dad didn't so it's another 25th.
Mick made it through to Round 3 and kept his hunt for a fifth Quik Pro France title against my other favourite rookie, Zeke Lau. I love the young Hawaiian’s brand of committed rail-to-rail surfing I’m gutted that he had to come up against Mick so early, because if I had my ‘druthers, neither would have had to suffer the indignity of a Round 2 exit. Ah well, in a perfect world…
So, that’s day one of the men’s comp all wrapped. Next call 8am tomorrow. Until then…
Round 1 Results:
Heat 1: Stuart Kennedy (AUS) 12.00, Adriano de Souza (BRA) 10.77, Conner Coffin (USA) 6.33
Heat 2: Nat Young (USA) 11.00, Bede Durbidge (AUS) 9.17, Owen Wright (AUS) 7.20
Heat 3: Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 13.77, Wiggolly Dantas (BRA) 12.50, Josh Kerr (AUS) 10.76
Heat 4: Ethan Ewing (AUS) 15.57, Caio Ibelli (BRA) 15.33, Julian Wilson (AUS) 9.13
Heat 5: John John Florence (HAW) 15.67, Italo Ferreira (BRA) 15.60, Keanu Asing (HAW) 5.10
Heat 6: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 16.10, Marc Lacomare (FRA) 12.70, Kanoa Igarashi (USA) 10.47
Heat 7: Joan Duru (FRA) 18.00, Filipe Toledo (BRA) 11.43, Miguel Pupo (BRA) 9.14
Heat 8: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 15.86, Jeremy Flores (FRA) 15.27, Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) 13.26
Heat 9: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 13.20, Jack Freestone (AUS) 11.96, Michel Bourez (PYF) 11.40
Heat 10: Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 12.74, Jadson Andre (BRA) 10.74, Connor O'Leary (AUS) 10.57
Heat 11: Ian Gouveia (BRA) 15.57, Mick Fanning (AUS) 15.27, Frederico Morais (PRT) 12.16
Heat 12: Adrian Buchan (AUS) 15.60, Kolohe Andino (USA) 10.63, Ezekiel Lau (HAW) 10.60
Round 2 Results:
Heat 1: Marc Lacomare (FRA) 13.27 def. Julian Wilson (AUS) 12.23
Heat 2: Owen Wright (AUS) 13.60 def. Keanu Asing (HAW) 11.17
Heat 3: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 15.97 def. Josh Kerr (AUS) 13.00
Heat 4: Miguel Pupo (BRA) 12.27 def. Filipe Toledo (BRA) 8.50
Heat 5: Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) 14.60 def. Connor O'Leary (AUS) 11.87
Heat 6: Frederico Morais (PRT) 15.26 def. Jack Freestone (AUS) 11.37
Heat 7: Kolohe Andino (USA) 13.50 def. Jadson Andre (BRA) 12.60
Heat 8: Mick Fanning (AUS) 13.20 def. Ezekiel Lau (HAW) 12.84