Official Event Sites: Quik Pro | Roxy Pro
Condensed Heat Recaps: Quik Pro | Roxy Pro
Heat Analyzers: Quik Pro | Roxy Pro
Recaps: Quik Pro Round 1 | Quik Pro Round 2, Roxy Pro Round 1 and Round 2 (Heats 1-3)
Complete Results: Quik Pro | Roxy Pro
Saturday at the Quiksilver Pro France and Roxy Pro France saw some incredible performances, more eliminations, and close calls, including Kelly Slater's (USA) Round 3 loss to Kolohe Andino (USA) and Mick Fanning's (AUS) come-from-behind win in the final minute.
Among the women, underdog Sage Erickson (USA) had a breakthrough performance, eliminating recent rising star Lakey Peterson (USA), while Stephanie Gilmore (AUS), who's back after missing five events, narrowly defeated Malia Manuel (HAW).
In a typical year, Gilmore's heat win wouldn't be remarkable. Not only is she a six-time surfing World Title winner and reigning Champ, she's also won the Roxy Pro three times. But this time around she was a wildcard of sorts: Having missed five events in a row with an injury to her fibula, she'd been out of the surfing spotlight since April.
Before injuring herself at Margaret River, in Australia, she had two runner-up finishes for a strong season start. That success kept Gilmore above the rankings points cutoff to requalify for the elite Tour in 2016 (on the women's Championship Tour, only the Top 10 get to come back). But by September, other surfers were surging ahead and their results during the most recent event, the Cascais Women's Pro, forced her out of the Top 10.
Now in France and back in action, she appeared to have lost the rhythm she's become known for, at first. Early on in Gilmore's Round 2 heat (an elimination round which she typically gets to skip with a Round 1 win), Hawaiian Malia Manuel had surged ahead and a return to form appeared to be out of reach. But midway through the heat, Gilmore snuck into a hollow righthander, earning an 8.83. A mediocre backup score was enough to overtake the lead and make it out of the round (best of two waves count), flashing a glimpse of the savvy that has taken her so far.
"I don't feel like I'm anywhere near 100 percent, I'm still trying to find my rhythm again," Gilmore said. "I'm [here as] a Roxy ambassador and I thought if my knee is feeling good I should surf and enjoy it all. I'm getting more comfortable every surf and regaining that confidence and rhythm."
Among the men's heats, Kolohe Andino (USA) -- who defeated Slater -- also came in to his Round 3 heat as an underdog, with a shocker of a season. He's dominated the lower-tier Qualifying Series (QS), but his season on the CT has been sorely lacking in results. Up until the Quik Pro, he had yet to win a Round 3 heat this year. Like Gilmore, this season has been a stark contrast to his 2014 season, which saw him finish in the Quarterfinals or better in four events.
But low tide at the beachbreak in Hossegor played right into Andino's hand in Round 3. Having made his mark on Tour as a polished progressive surfer, the Californian threw one of classic airs on his first wave, putting some pressure on Kelly Slater (USA), who's currently No. 6 in the world. While Slater was able to complete an air-reverse later in the heat, Andino's early heroics carried him through for the win.
"The wave was closing out and I just wanted to do something big," Andino said. "I was thinking air-reverse before my heat would probably be a better option, but I'm glad they scored a big straight air."
Mick Fanning (AUS) dealt with a different scenario, but found some salvation of his own. Currently the Tour leader, (Jeep Rankings No. 1, he has had a big year and is coming off an event win at September's Hurley Pro.
Here in France, he started off strong with a Round 1 win, which let him skip Round 2 and pick things up again in Round 3. But in his heat Saturday against local wildcard Maxime Huscenot (FRA), Fanning found himself lagging behind and with the weight of a World Title run on his shoulders. Not unlike the veteran poise and determination that Gilmore displayed in the heats before, he managed to regroup in the final 10 seconds to find a solid wave and score a 9.03 just in time to win.
"I felt like I couldn't figure out the wave, and there was very little time left so I had to give it all on that last wave," Fanning said. "Lucky enough it just held up really nice and was the best wave I had the whole heat. That's what you train for. You can't fold under pressure. You got to be able to surf how you want to surf."
WORLD TITLE WATCH: With Fanning's advance into Round 4, World No. 2 Adriano de Souza (BRA), who also advanced, is now forced to make it to the Semis to overtake Fanning, if Fanning loses in Round 5.
Round 3 Standout Heat: Australians Adrian Buchan and Bede Durbidge earned a combined three scores in the nine-point range, with Durbidge taking the win. Zero in on all of their waves with the Quik Pro Heat Analyzer.
Tune in again Sunday, October 11 at 8 a.m. local time on the WSL website, and on the go with the WSL app.