France is a place where you better come up strong, or start making plans for next year's run at the cup. If you don't believe that, check the results of how the previous six World Champions fared in Hossegor: John Florence 3rd, Adriano de Souza 3rd, Gabriel Medina 5th, Mick Fanning 1st, Joel Parkinson 3rd and Kelly Slater 5th.
Zero of them lost before the Quarterfinals, and with every contender not named Jordy Smith already carrying at least two throwaways this season, it is officially crunch time.
The year was 2011, also known as the Mid-Year Cut, also known as the year Gabriel Medina and John John Florence became eligible for CT competition and started wrecking havoc. Gabriel went on to win his first ever Quiksilver Pro France and while John finished 25th, neither of them have finished worse than 5th since, and each has a win in that span.
When digging into the hard numbers, they tell a similar story. Gabriel and John own the two highest Average Heat Scores in event history at an eerily similar 14.64 to 14.62 respectively. While John's Heat Win Percentage was brought down to 63% by that rookie year 25th, Gabriel has completely dominated the field with a 78% HWP.
Pair those with John's 2017 leading 16.35 AHS and Gabriel's 3rd place 14.52 AHS and you have a daunting sight for the remaining Top 32.
They aren't the only solid options in Tier A though. Julian Wilson continues his dig towards a maiden World Title and owns one runner-up, one Semifinal, and two Quarterfinals out of the past six years in this event. He stakes claim to seven Excellent Heats which is good enough for 5th of surfers currently on Tour.
If you like to make picks based on momentum, Filipe Toledo might be your guy. He's won two of the past three events (J-Bay and Trestles) and it could be argued that beachbreaks are his biggest advantage. His results in France so far have been average, winning 50% of his heats with an AHS of 13.1, but when Filipe catches fire everyone else can basically just paddle in.
On the lower expectations side of Tier A, sits Matt Wilkinson and Owen Wright. Wilko has surfed in seven events yet never cracked the Quarterfinals, with an AHS of 10.73 and zero Excellent Heats. Owen has fared slightly better making one Quarterfinal appearance in five tries and has a respectable, 10th place AHS of 13.08, which is actually a touch higher than Jordy Smith.
Speaking of Jordy, this hasn't been a great event for him, but it hasn't been bad either. Aside from bombing out last year and missing due to injury in 2015, he's made three Quarterfinals and been in two Semifinals (2014, 2011). His HWP of 57% is tied with Kolohe Andino for 7th on Tour.
Swinging into Tier B, Kolohe Andino isn't a bad place to start. Over the past five years (since he's been on Tour) Kolohe has the 3rd highest average finish, only behind Gabriel and John. You could argue this would even have been higher had the judges deemed him to have ridden out of a couple seemingly landed, aerial maneuvers. Even during his struggling campaign as an 18 year old rookie, Brother reached his best result of the year with a 5th in France.
While having a ho-hum season coming back from a partial year off Tour, it's hard to bet against Mick Fanning in France. He's surfed 14 total events here and has the 4th highest AHS in event history at 14.25, to pair along with 24 Excellent Heats. That comes with an all time high of four Quiksilver Pro France wins, which is one more than greats, Andy Irons and Kelly Slater.
Fellow Coolangatta neighbor Joel Parkinson is an option for Tier B with plenty of success in France but has trailed off in recent years. A pair of 3rds in 2012/13 are sandwiched in between on 13th and three 25ths over the past six years. Joel's HWP is still a respectable 52% based off events prior but if you're searching for another proven veteran in this bracket, you could make a case for Ace Buchan.
It's been a while since Ace's glory days at France beating Kelly Slater in the 2008 final but he's looked on point this year making the final in Brazil and semis at Trestles. His HWP in France is 9th currently on tour.
Beyond that, it's slim pickings in Tier B judging off past experience. You'll have to take a flyer on a youngster like Conner Coffin and wish for the best, or lean on someone like Michel Bourez to pull out his best performance in a long time.
Tier C is under extreme pressure at this point in the year. If you haven't backed yourself up on the QS, it's now or never to get the ball rolling to re-qualify. Most of the surfers in this bracket lack ample event history, but Miguel Pupo (5th in 2012/14), Josh Kerr (3rd in 2014) and Jadson Andre (2nd in 2014) have all obtained prior success in France. However, none stand out especially in any major statistical category.
The top seed in this bracket belongs to rookie Zeke Lau who's coming of a QS 10k win in the EDP Billabong Pro Cascais. His AHS of 12.95 this year sits higher than Joel Parkinson, Kolohe Andino, and Sebastian Zietz amongst others ahead of him on the Jeep Leaderboard. Zeke is definitely one to watch in Europe.
Another solid option could be Leo Fioravanti, who owns an advantage simply by living down the street from his main sponsor's event site. Leo knows these sandbars better than just about everyone on Tour and has proven in video parts that he's capable of picking off 10 point rides in French beachbreaks.
As always, it's good to keep an eye on event wildcards which will be last year's defending champion, Keanu Asing, and local product Marc Lacomare. Was Asing's lone win in France a fluke, or can he back it up? Keanu already has three QS wins to his name in 2017 and clearly favors his automatic backhand attack over going right.
Get your picks in ASAP as the Quiksilver/Roxy Pro France can start as early as Saturday, October 7th.