France has a way of weeding out anyone who's not ready for -- comment veut dire? -- its Frenchness. In Paris' Cordon Bleu, for example, earning a certificate in pastry-making takes years of preparation, followed by a nine-month course specializing in the country's flaky pieces of perfection. Even the curriculum on chocolate -- which sounds like the cooking equivalent of Rocks for Jocks -- is the place where GPAs go to die.
Seven hours southwest from that esteemed institution, the hurdles to French achievement are no lower. In fact, depending on the swell, period and wind, they can get even higher than in those hallowed halls of cuisine. La Gravière, where the Roxy Pro France unfolded this week, is in fact a cruel classroom. In its massive field of quickly-shifting peaks and tides, it can take just as long to master the art of the lineup as it does the art of cooking.
And just like the test kitchens up north, it also takes patience, discipline, luck, and that beautifully indefinable, know-it-when-you-see-it je ne sais quoi. Saturday in Hossegor, Carissa Moore had that in spades. In front of one of the biggest crowds for this event in recent memory, she eased into things, with a 4.00 and then a 5.33 before dropping the hammer on her opponent, Lakey Peterson, with a 9.20. With one more wave, for a 7.23, Peterson was comboed -- needing two new scores to catch up, with just 15 minutes left.
For Moore, the win was a sweet summit of effort in Europe, where she has clearly been reinspired and back in her three-time-World-Title-winning mode. After one of the longest winless streaks of her career, Moore not only had a blast mowing down the field of would-be winners on this massive playing field, but also proved that her days of total domination are far from done. She was simply in a higher gear than her opponents - yes, her surfing was spot-on, but it was her energy and focus that set her apart. Her game face was on well before her heat: Sitting in the athletes' area, she had her headphones on, one knee tapping, and her fiancé, Luke Untermann, by her side. In short, she was ready for le grand finale.
Despite losing to Moore, Peterson put on an impressive show of her own at the Roxy Pro, winding up to repeat her runner-up event finish at Snapper at the start of the year. Looking at her results over the year, she hit a denouement in the middle, with a string of 9ths and 13ths, but bounced back starting in September, with a 3rd at Trestles, and then 5th in Cascais. And in the France Final, despite a loss, Peterson managed to fight back from nowhere -- with Moore having the run of the heat -- to a respectable scoreline in the end.
Apart from each finalist's result, in the wake of their battle is a Leaderboard littered with the detritus of painful losses. Moore, for her part, may not be in World Title contention this season, but she did plenty of damage along the way. In the Quarters, she took down Stephanie Gilmore, who arrived at World No. 6, and Sally Fitzgibbons, who arrived as World No. 1. Peterson, meanwhile, did some damage of her own here in Hossegor. In the Quarters, she took down Courtney Conlogue who, at World No. 2 upon arrival, is chasing Fitzgibbons for the 2017 Title. Next, in the Semis, Peterson eliminated Tyler Wright (World No. 3), who had somehow overcome a torn MCL to win three of her four heats.
Heading into Maui, the final women's CT event of the year, Fitzgibbons will still be in No. 1 - but also still at risk of losing her grip on the silver Title cup. Wright is now in No. 2, followed closely by Conlogue, with Moore now at World No. 4 -- three full spots up from her rank upon arrival in France. It may have taken Moore all year to find passion for her art again. But it hardly matters: What emerged for her in France is the type of delight that lasts far longer than any croissant, chocolate or otherwise. It's the amour for the craft that counts most in France -- whether in the steamy pantries of Paris or the sunny beach breaks of Les Landes. As long as it beats loudly in le coeur.