The building blocks upon which any Quiksilver Pro France is built are the Hossegor sandbanks. Their health, number and variety is the key to seeing the world's best surfers performing at their best. As it stands, we are happy to report that early signs look good. The banks at La Gravière, the stretch of sand that provides the heaving shorebreak barrels that made this a surfing hotspot, look in good shape. Early in the week Julian Wilson and Michel Bourez shared a few legitimate 10-foot tubes right in front of the contest structure, while when the swell dropped, the 300-yard stretch turned into a barreling skatepark. Predicting sandbanks and conditions in France is a notoriously foolish pastime, but given the right swell the potential for mind-blowing tubes is definitely there.
The Local Hopes
For the last decade, Jeremy Flores has had the hopes of the large and vocal contingent of French surfing fans resting on shoulders. It is something, by his own admittance, with which has struggled, and has often tried too hard to force his performance. This year, though, he has some help in sharing the burden of expectation. Joan Duru is born and raised in Landes and is coming off a solid result at the EDP Billabong Pro Cascais. A stellar rookie year sees him sitting as World No. 18, one spot behind Jeremy. If one, or both, can harness the crowd's goodwill and their intimate lineup knowledge, the French fans could just get the first-ever local Quik Pro France winner they crave.
"You know the first three or four times I came to France, I really struggled," Mick Fanning told the WSL from his Hossegor base. "I first came here 20 years ago. I was young and the language barrier was a struggle. Then it clicked and I fell in love with this part of the world." That emotional connection, and some quite good surfing, has led him being the surfer with four Quik Pro France titles, the most in history. However after last year's sabbatical and a definite easing in his infamous competitive focus, the 3 X World Champion comes into this event ranked outside the top 10 for the first time since that very first year. "I haven't surfed as well as I would have liked, but the fire still burns," he said. "I couldn't think of a better place to return to winning ways."
The Latest Form Guide
The four CT surfers who made the Final at the EDP Billabong Pro will now come into the Quik Pro France with their equipment dialed in and their confidence sky-high. Zeke Lau found the form that earned him a Bells Semifinal and his ascent up the QS rankings will relieve the pressure he was under. Fellow finalist Italo Ferreira, meanwhile, seemed to have shaken off his ankle injury and looked menacing. Frederico Morais surfed with the composure and power that has seen knocking on the top 10's door. That leaves Kanoa Igarashi, who backed his Trestles form with great surfing. It's unlikely that all four will repeat their success in France, but from that quartet, expect one at least to progress deep into the competition.
Handling the Pressure
The Quik Pro France has always been pivotal, if not exactly decisive, in the World Title race, and this year will be no different. As mentioned, Julian Wilson arrived the earliest and has been looking both focused and loose in his freesurfing. Jordy Smith probably has the poorest record in the Bay of Biscay, never making a Final there, and he will need to change that to keep the Jeep Leaders' Yellow Jersey. John John Florence is the only previous winner in the group, and having been coming here with his mum since he was a tiny grom, he has a great affinity for the waves and local culture. Wilko, fresh from a few days sightseeing in Paris with his girlfriend, should relish the rip bowls that are similar(ish) to the waves on which he grew up. Effectively, with such a group of surfers all so closely matched for talent and ratings points, any early loss will be heavily punished. The pressure will be on from the first hooter till the champion is crowned. Whoever handles it best will be a small step closer to becoming the 2017 World Champion.