Patience and timing are the keys to success on the European leg of the Championship Tour (CT). Big tides, multiple delays and long afternoons are the norm at the Quiksilver Pro France, making for a challenging platform to get keeper scores. This is typically where some of the veterans and definitely the positive-vibe warriors will have an advantage.
Surfers who stay on top of the conditions and handle themselves through the grueling waiting period can take advantage of those who might be complacent. La Graviere and Estagnots can vary from heavy pits to high-performance rip current banks that produce shreddy waves. It's no wonder John John Florence (HAW) won this event last year -- he basically ticked all the boxes mentioned above. Maybe the most important attribute to look for in your picks is someone who keeps the groove and can adapt to challenging conditions. In other words, the headstrong are the warriors of choice.
Tier A: Owen Wright (AUS)
I think Mick Fanning is an obvious choice here so I'd like to give you a different option. Owen, as you already know from his two perfect heats in Fiji, is a beast in hollow waves and more than capable in high-performance surf. O-dog finished fifth in Rio this year in surf that could be compared to what we may see in France.
I like his approach in hollow waves with technical drops -- which we may see if we're lucky enough to get surf at La Graviere -- and he's been producing some of my favorite highlights in the shreddy stuff as well. In my opinion, Owen is one of the most well-rounded surfers on Tour. Taking into consideration his skills, motivation and headspace, he's primed for the win. Just save some room for him on the dance floor if he gets the job done 'cause he will be ready to cut loose! Start 'em.
Tier B: Italo Ferreira (BRA)
No more underestimating this guy! Italo is built like a tank and surfs past his competitors accordingly. Again, maybe the closest conditions to French beaches we've seen were at this year's Oi Rio Pro.
It's been a while since we've seen a rookie come in this hot, to have so much competitive poise despite having a severe case of froth. Although he surfs a little funky with his unorthodox style and approach, you can't deny his ability to pull off remarkable moves under pressure. In fact, I don't think this kid feels any pressure. He's too busy scouring the lineup for anything that moves, milking every wave to the sand, blowing your mind with big tail wafts and solid power moves. His surfing matches the style of waves for which France is known. He also has too much energy and psych to be affected by the notorious year-end "fog." Hop on the tank and collect the points left from his wake. Start 'em.
Tier C: Jordy Smith (ZAF)
As you can see from the clip above, Jordy loves himself a good ol' beachbreak barrel. France is really tailor-made for Jordy's surfing. The risk: He's slowly recovering from his back injury, which leaves us in the dark on how fresh and ready to go he'll be when the horn blows at Hossegor. But Jordy Smith in Tier C? Give me a break. It's a no-brainer. Start 'em.
Tier A: Kelly Slater (USA)
Is Kelly the greatest surfer of all time? Yes. Is he the winningest surfer ever? Without a doubt. So why sit him? Simple: I think the result in California sucked the motivation right out of him for the year. With his injuries and the improbability of joining the Title race, I'm interested to see how much effort he puts into his first heat, especially if the waves are average. You're better off picking guys like Mick, Owen and Julian Wilson in this tier, as they are the ones who need to win and have so much at stake. At this point of the year, it's easy to lack focus, which is not the energy you want from your Tier A pick. Now that I say this I'm sure he'll go out and win the event. C'est la vie. Sit 'em.
Tier B: Michel Bourez (PYF)
I know what you're thinking: This is not a karma call after Seabass' interference (an instance in which, by the way, Michel did nothing wrong), but rather me just picking up on a vibe of low confidence. Michel has been making a slow comeback from his big wipeout at Teahupo'o that caused him to miss two events. Initially his hand was hurt and at Lowers he was suffering from a stiff neck and bad cold. I think it's very possible that Michel can recover in time for his heat in France but let's just say he's been through the ringer. Here's the one good thing about the infamous interference at Lowers between him and Sebastian: It created a fun rivalry!
So if we are lucky, we will see a rematch in France to settle this thing. But with frustrating overall results weighing him down, it's better to hold off on putting Michel in your lineup. Sit 'em.
Tier C: Dusty Payne (HAW)
The conversation around Dusty and his potential is starting to get redundant. You can only sound that alarm for someone for so long before they just need to own the place in which they currently reside and unfortunately for D.P., that's 34th on the Jeep Leaderboard.
Like you, I love watching Dusty surf. He's powerful, exciting, and capable of really big moves. But his kryptonite is his decision-making in heats. He often relies on his surfing alone in heats to win. His surfing is more than good enough to win events, but winning heats takes more than the ability to rip a wave. I think if he takes a page out of Adriano de Souza's book -- refining his wave section, nervy priority control and simply embracing a passion to win heats -- he will climb to that Top 10 spot we all had him pegged to achieve. I still have faith he will silence the doubters, but he really needs to put together a few events to not only prove his greatness to us but to himself as well. Sit 'em.
Dark Horse: Sebastian Zietz (HAW)
Talk about having a reason to be fired up: After his priority blunder at Lowers, Seabass will be psyching for his first heat in Europe.
I said it during his heat: That was the best surfing I've seen out of him with a jersey on this year, and maybe ever. He looked amped, crisp and loose. Rated No. 22, Zietz is on the line of fire (No. 22 is the cutoff ranking to automatically requalify for the 2016 Tour). He needs to break free of the nosebleed section of the rankings. He's too good, too well-rounded to be fighting for his survival every year. I think he knows this and is ready to rise to the challenge. More than that, the French beachies are perfectly matched for Seabass' surfing: Punchy, consistent and compact. It's time for him to get on that winner's podium! Start 'em.
Ross Williams spent 10 years as a CT competitor. Currently, he's a WSL analyst and contributes a Fantasy surfing column before each event on the elite Tour, as well as provides up-to-date Fantasy intel each morning at 8:00 a.m. local time on the Dawn Patrol Morning Show. Follow Ross Williams on Twitter (@rosswilliamshi) and Instagram (@rosswilliamshawaii).