The eagerly awaited swell has hit early and the contest organisers have made the call to start the competition. The air is cool and fresh, but the sea mist is now melting away. The growing crowd on the beach has started to peel off layers of clothing, all eyes transfixed on the water. Although a gentle breeze can now be felt, the waves are glassy, as yet unruffled by the wind.
The second heat is underway. Jadson Andre has caught the first barrel, a long tube ride scoring 7.5. The cosmopolitan crowd, comprised of a collection of all surfing nations, cheers.
When not watching the surf, a big screen replays the last waves caught and the organisation of the Quiksilver Pro France really stands out. We have spent the last few days travelling up and down the beach, witnessing the contest area unfolding. From the multiple camera towers, contestant areas, stages and a huge skate ramp being constructed in the Place Des Landais, it is apparent that this is one of the biggest ASP spectacles. Most importantly, the surf has turned on!
It is the now the third heat of the day. The Quiksilver buoy marking the outer reaches of the contest area disappears, a sign that a set of waves is on it’s way. Tiago Pires takes off on a bomb, but doesn’t make it. Mick Fanning, the defending champion answers by taking off on the second set wave. He threads through a tube and then carves his way right to the beach to the applause of the crowd.
The tide is starting to push towards high, and the breeze is stronger now. The offshore direction of the wind is holding up the wave faces, and Brett Simpson tail slides across one for a 7.33, putting him in the lead. With 90 seconds to go, Mick Fanning slips skilfully into a barreling wave and disappears from view as he is enveloped inside. He bursts out through the curtain of the wave, and the crowd erupts. Mick scores a 9.37 to win the heat.
Due to the amount of water moving around, and the impending high tide the forth heat is restarted. The water running back from the beach makes the waves fat and hard to catch. Owen Wright breaks the stand off between competitors and conditions taking off on an ample wave. It breaks too quickly, closing out around him. Owen catches another wave arcing out of a deep bottom turn and pulling a huge floater across the lip. Dane Reynolds answers, but does not secure a good score despite completing a big turn.
The sky is now cloudless and the temperature is climbing steadily. The set waves are scarce and the clock counts down. A final exchange takes place between Owen and Dane. Dane pulls a frontside air reverse in the closing seconds for an 8.33. Not quite enough to win but a dignified finish to a slow heat.
Heat 6, Kelly Slater’s heat has just started. The crowd have repositioned themselves, ready to pounce as soon he leaves the water. Kelly gets a reasonable right hander, nothing special and is scored accordingly. Notably, the majority of spectators here are better versed in the idiosyncrasies of the judging criteria than the crowd in Hawaii at the Pipeline Masters last year. Hopefully this means Kelly will get scored fairly, if not more critically than in the other events we have witnessed this year. Perhaps it is because he is in front of a European crowd rather than an all American audience?
Kelly is undoubtedly surfing the best in this heat, although the high tide is providing the worst conditions of the day so far.
Freddy P Jr pulls a frontside air, the most exciting manoeuvre of the heat for a score of 6.83, although Kelly wins by one point. As the air horn sounds, a huge set of waves rumbles through unridden. The crowds mob Kelly.