The European leg of the tour often marks the home stretch for those who still have hope for claiming the World Title and once again, possibly the most enchanting stop of the WSL world tour has come and gone. The Quik Pro France is often associated with near-shore barrels, but unique in that it’s almost always the most unpredictable venue on the circuit. Going into the contest, the top three surfers were more than ready to bring their ‘A’ game in attempts to set themselves apart from the pack. Filipe Toledo held a small lead over Gabriel Medina with Julian Wilson only a bit further behind, but not out of reach.
Early Autumn had not produced a wealth of swell for the region and as such, the typical sandbanks of La Graviere were found to be less organized than typically expected. The contest arena was accordingly positioned further north at Plague de Les Culs Nuls – translating roughly to Beach of Empty Asses. A naturalist beach, all in French fashion.
The waiting period opened with modest surf, but plenty of swell in the forecast prompting Commissioner Perrow to hold from starting the contest until the second half of the window. Day 6 kicked off Round 1 and the event continued through consecutive days until completion on Day 10. Low-tide saw hollow drainers directly in front of the judges’ booth, however as the tide filled in everyone was thankful there was an off-road truck equipped with a mobile judges booth to take the show a few hundred yards further north.
Round 2 saw many surfers lower in the rankings eliminated, further isolating them from re-qualification including French favorite Jeremy Flores. Waves remained punchy and consistent, however, the barrels Hossegor is known for were fewer and farther between. Ultimately it was airs that were winning heats, and so the men’s CT turned into a bit of an air show itself, arguably overshadowing the Red Bull Airborne event held on the previous day.
By Round 3 several of the surfer’s consistency was quite defined and it was becoming ever more clear who was thirsty for a victory. Wildcard Ryan Callinan, fresh off a QS 10,000 win, provided perhaps the upset of the event taking out world rankings #1 Filipe Toledo by two-tenths of a point. Californian Kolohe Andino was also looking razor sharp on his front side, unfortunately making a critical mistake in the final second of the heat. He caught what he believed to be a victory lap and party wave with fellow San Clemente local Pat Gudauskas, however, took off just before the buzzer resulting in an interference call and untimely elimination.
Julian Wilson’s consistency on rail, in the barrel and in the air remained extremely prominent as he took out local wildcard Joan Duru in Round 3. Continuing into Round 4, Wilson took a close second to Hawaiian Sebastian Zeitz who also exhibited a strong rail and air game where this time Gudauskas fell behind and was eliminated from the three-man heat.
Day 10 marked the start of the quarterfinals and all heats were stacked. Power surfers and air guys, rookies, and veterans collided in a battle of mixed bag surfing. Conner Coffin vs. Andrino De Souza, Ryan Callinan vs. Jordy Smith, Mikey Wright vs. Julian Wilson and Sebastian Zeitz vs. Gabriel Medina made for an exciting day of surfing. Ultimately it was Coffin, Callinan, Wilson, and Medina that would find their way through.
But it was in the second semi-final, in a low, thick fog that perhaps the heat of the event took place. World rankings #2 Gabriel Medina and #3 Julian Wilson went head to head in what looked more like a boxing match than a surf competition. The two went blow for blow, each catching over a dozen waves, throwing one backside full-rotation after another, just yards from the shoreline in a very close heat. Gabriel took off on a wave before kicking out upon deciding it would not offer the ramp section needed, turning over priority to Wilson, a mistake that would prove to be costly. Both surfers sat in the water as time expired and waited for the judges to make a decision.
The final heat saw the rookie wildcard Ryan Callinan pitted against crowd favorite Julian Wilson. Again Wilson displayed unmatch board control through stomped landings directly in the wave’s transition that appeared to be influenced by years of skating bowls. The sky began to turn into a painting as the sun continued to set on the day and the clock winded down on the final heat of the competition. Thousands on the beach celebrate with Julian and with each other because ultimately, it’s days like this where everyone present feels like they’ve won.