The water's movement along the steep sands of Hossegor is subject to its ordered governance, but the mass movement of people along the shoreline at the Quiksilver Pro is more sporadic.
A steady flow of human traffic drifts towards the center stage berm as the the action develops, culminating in the largest populations for the top-billing heats in the middle of the draw.
When surfers emerge from their guarded tower and head toward the water's edge for their heats, a parade of mainly youthful legs make a diagonal dash across the beach. And then there's the more chaotic swarming around the sport's stars; a scrum that rolls gently back toward the tower gates.
Yet the most curious ebb and flow happens immediately after key waves are ridden inside the tower walls, where athletes, friends of athletes, and Tour insiders mingle. They rush to watch the scores drop on the judging screens. Some scores, it seems, are just too important to wait for.
The biggest scrambles occurred today during a frenzy of ever more radical surfing, as arguably the best heat of the year went down. In delectable glassy pockets, John John Florence and Filipe Toledo got into a scintillating air-and-tube battle during a non-elimination Round Four heat with Stu Kennedy.
Florence tunneled and punted his way to a pair of nines, which only served to inspire the Brazilian to greater heights. Needing a 9.97 to get past Florence, Toledo went streaking across an accommodating left, launching an enormous 360 air reverse off of a backhand ramp. Some were calling it one of the biggest airs ever completed in a competition. Some were calling it stuff we can't publish.
The judges called it perfect.
"You've gotta go big," Toledo said after the epic clash. "Round Four is good to try crazy stuff. Thank God that wave came to me...John is the best surfer in the world to me. We spent time together in Brazil last year, we're friends but we're kind of enemies in a heat. It's always fun, we're putting on a show."
Gabriel Medina meanwhile strode defiantly into the Quarters, for the moment at least marginally nosing in front of Florence who will have to overcome reigning World Champion Adriano de Souza in Round Five to take his place in the last eight. Medina, carrying a vibe that marries an unlikely combination of focus with mild detachment appears to be saving himself to peak in the business end of the event. But only just.
Earlier in the day Round Three saw a pair of clutch encounters. Ryan Callinan recovered in the whitewater after a crazy tweaked-out backside rotation on a smaller between-set wave gifted to him to John John Florence. The unassuming rookie received the round's biggest number as a reward and the faint whiff of an upset was suddenly pungent. The yellow jersey appeared vulnerable to the assaults of a man who, when full of confidence -- or in particular, when freesurfing -- has highlight reel moves almost on lock.
Callinan hasn't really had the rub of the green all year, but appeared to have freed himself of the shackles this time. When an almost identical opportunity presented itself near the end of the heat he got even more audacious. But marginal over-exuberance cost him the conversion, which surely would have rendered him the score he needed.
For John John in the lineup, it had been a well-aimed bullet dodged.
"It's fun when you can just kinda get through heats, but that was an interesting one, kind of a little battle. Battles always feel really good, win or lose. The crowds here are crazy, coming up the beach I could hardly even walk," said Florence.
When wildcard Leo Fioravanti straightened out from a little layback hook sign-off, having exited a long, weaving tube, a thunderous roar of appreciation went up from a capacity crowd. Left chasing a very modest score, the Italian went from being held in combo by Gabriel Medina to being well and truly on the front foot. The teenage upstart seemed to be spilling top-seed blood. But it wasn't to be. Whereas Florence had required his opponent to go close to the excellent range to pick his pocket, Medina somehow escaped having spent the last third of the heat leaving his foe needing only a 4.
This evening, as thousands of spectators filed off the beach in the day's last major migration, they could be forgiven for suffering from emotional fatigue, having gone through almost the entire human spectrum during a day of professional surfing. They'll need the restorative effects of a cold beer or glass of Bordeaux with dinner in order to ready themselves for tomorrow, which could well deliver the most important heats of the year so far.
Watch the Quik and Roxy Pro France live on the WSL app and website starting at 8:00 a.m. CEST and a full replay starting at 11 a.m. PDT.