Event Wrap-Up: Quiksilver Pro France, 2013
C'est La Vie
By Sean Doherty
And so with a thousand mostly-interested Frenchies on the beach and a champagne bukkake party on stage, Mick Fanning became the raging favourite to win this year’s World Title. He’d just bagged himself the final of the Quiksilver Pro at La Penon, and in doing so locked down the only thing his season to date had been missing – an event win.
Watching online last night in the early hours from a hemisphere away, it proved an instructive evening on several fronts. For while Mick was busy winning on the beaches in France, the girls’ World Title was being decided at the same time down the Iberian Peninsula at Guincho, just outside of Lisbon. The scheduling of these two scenarios up against each other was plain loopy, as both warranted centre stage. This needs to be fixed for next season. Putting the girls heats out in the scraps when the men and women surf together is one thing, but scheduling a men’s event up against their World Title decider is another. At 1am last night the girls’ world title was wide open. Carissa drew Steph Gilmore in the biggest girls’ heat all year, for had Carissa lost it would have handed a maiden World Title to Tyler Wright. It lived up to the billing and went down to a tenth of a point, Steph just falling short of becoming a Queenmaker and handing Tyler the Title. By the time you read this, the girls’ Title will be decided. Carissa or Tyler, both worthy (Ed’s Note: Carissa Moore won the Title while our writer here was in mid-air somewhere tapping out this article en-route to Portugal for commentating duties, you can watch the highlights here: Coastalwatch | Coastalwatch Plus).
Meanwhile, back up in France, Mick Fanning had come to life. Hossegor has been good to him over the years – his win last night was his fourth, overtaking Andy Irons’ three. Mick paid tribute to the fallen champ on stage, Mick’s win coming the day after the third anniversary of Andy’s passing. For Mick there’s just something about this event that transfuses his surfing. He’s seemingly been in third gear for most of the year, but last night he popped the clutch and dropped to fifth. He went from tortoise to hare. His transitions were fluid, his choreography of turns clinical, and his finishes decisive. In short, it was World Title Mick… and it needed to be. Drawing John John, Joel and finally Gabe (after having already dusted Taj yesterday) saw him up against some heavy artillery. After Kelly walked into the Toledo rotor in his quarter, the semi-final between Joel and Mick became clutch in terms of the Title. There was a winnable final waiting on the other side and it was a win that one way or the other would change the complexion of the World Title race. There were definitely overtones of 2009 when Mick and Joel were in France jousting for the title, Joel hobbling around on a bad ankle and Mick getting big in his mirrors. Mick could smell blood then and he smelt it again last night.
Just as we saw Mick’s savoir faire on show last night, we also saw just how much of a graveyard France can be for Kelly. Nobody seems to know why. Man, Kelly’s been asking himself for years. Thing is, it shouldn’t be. He won his first World Title here in ’92, the power base of Quiksilver resides here as does his friend and caddy, Stephen Bell. He could make this a home event but there’s almost a sense of fatalism about Kelly not only here in France but in Portugal as well. He resigned to the understanding that this European leg is always going to be tough for him. But Kelly knows that all he has to do is keep the ratings numbers on his side and stay in the game till Pipe, and then the whole thing swings. The games begin.
It was not a glorious year for surf in France. The waves for the final day were surprisingly okay – a little chumpy, sure – but rippable in places and a stark contrast to the previous day when the bank was so straight as to be literally unsurfable. I grew up surfing South One Mile Beach – and Beau Emerton will back me up on this – I thought we had a mortgage on rank close-outs until I saw those heats being sent out the previous night. It was a shame that World Title heats had to be decided in straighthanders. France is by far the hardest event on tour to contest direct – I’m sorry Dooma, even harder then Bells – and Miky Picon is the right man for the job, but it’s a tough one. The waves are typically French – mercurial and moody. Seek them here and seek them there, but they’ll always looks better somewhere else up or down the beach. Between the tides and the winds and the swell there are sublime windows all over the place, but plonking the fat ass of the contest in front of them is a challenge.
You had to feel sorry for Taj and Jordy. Both lost in abysmal waves; Taj with the double misfortune of also drawing Mick and – using a classic Tajism – getting “selected to death”. That’s not how you want World Titles decided. Effectively losing Taj and Jordy from the Title race robs it of some colour. A Taj World Title would have, for the second year running, provided a feelgood story and delivered a Title many would claim long overdue to one of the tour’s favourite sons. A Jordy win would have been seen as a new horizon. It would have been a gateway win that would open the door to a new generation of World Champions… John John, Julian, Owen and Gabe.
But instead this will mark the ninth year that – almost exclusively – some combination of Kelly, Mick and Joel will go into the closing events of the tour duking out the Title. Nine years. Every new season starts with the same promise of a shake up at the top, each year billed as the year when one of the young guys is going to season the decks of these old geezers to be shipped off to aged care. But every year we get to this point, two events out from the finish line, and here they are – too old, too slow… and too good. What was scary about what we just saw in France is that we know Mick, Kelly and Joel are going to dominate in good surf. That’s proven. But, frighteningly, we just saw them dominate in some of the worst waves the tour has seen all year.
Your correspondent is currently flying over the Nile Valley – a green snake meandering through a whole lot of brown sandy nothing – on his way to Lisbon. Mick Fanning meanwhile is packing boards and a grade two hangover for the drive from Hossegor to Peniche. He hit the tiles at Café de Paris after his win, but refrained from Eugene cameos and nude dancing on the bar as we’ve witnessed in previous years. There’s a job to be finished here. The Title is there, tantalisingly close, just waiting to be claimed. It could happen in Portugal; you bet it could. A win would almost guarantee it. Rip Curl’s Portugal event is due to start in two days. The delicate waft of cabbage fields and sardines drift on the autumn seabreeze. Supertubos awaits.
For more videos and photos from this event, you can head to the Quiksilver Pro France page here.
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