When reigning World Champ Tyler Wright took to social media to announce she'd sustained a 70 percent tear in her Medial Collateral Ligament just under a week ago, surf fans and Title rivals alike, whatever their level of formal medical training inevitably drew the same conclusion: 2017 would see the crowning of new women's World Champion.
That may yet prove to be the case, but a resurgent Wright, sporting a knee brace on her back leg, laid on a statement performance today at La Gravière, Hossegor, on the first day of the Roxy Pro France waiting period that included a series of aggressive snaps on her very first wave that surely had her corner crew wincing. Having taken out an impressive Round One win over Tatiana Weston-Webb and Bronte Macaulay, the World No. 3, ever forthright in her post-heat interviews, explained the mental anguish she'd had to contend with before tackling the more straightforward physiological trauma.
"We've had a week now and I feel like a lot of healing has happened," Wright explained. "My whole week has been about healing and doing everything I can to get as much reattached to the bone as possible. I have an incredible crew working with me, I'm very lucky to have this entourage. I wouldn't be here competing if it's wasn't for those people.
"The chances of me doing this event were low, let's be honest. I had to decide, to have those conversations about walking away and how I would feel if I did. I'm here to win, to try to get that second World Title, that's what all this last week is about and that's what I'm here to do."
Aside from the mental resolution clearly evident, even Wright's maneuver selection flew in the face of the kind of safe surfing she might have otherwise been forgiven for, unleashing knee-tweaking snaps and tail slides in the head-high, running right handers on offer. Those who had prematurely counted her out of this year's running were invited to chew on some humble baguette, and promptly start counting her back in.
World No. 1 Sally Fitzgibbons, meanwhile, found her way through to Round Three, but only after a commanding second-round victory over wildcard Caroline Marks. Whether or not the yellow jersey weighs heavier in October than earlier in the season, or whether just the troublesome combination of a bottoming-out tide and reluctantly rising swell were the factors that saw her drop her first Round One heat of 2017, was largely academic by day's end.
"It's interesting how conditions change every 10 minutes when that tide comes in," Fitzgibbons said. "I knew I had a tough opponent, Caroline is doing well on the QS and I'm sure she'll be joining us next year. So I had to step it up and I'm happy to move through. We have long days here in France so you have to pace yourself and manage your energy, it's challenging but I'm really having a lot of fun with it."
Whether World No. 2 Courtney Conlogue had taken extra heart from seeing her main Title rival stumble early this morning, or whether vanquishing the memory of seeing the World Title slip away from her in SW France last year was motivation enough in itself, the ever-combative Californian swept aside Keely Andrew and Bianca Buitendag in Round One, setting her off on the right foot on her quest to chase down the 3500 points gap Fitzgibbons holds over her coming into stop No. 9.
"I've had a week to kind of wash that last event off [the Cascais Women's Pro] and I'm feeling great," Conlogue said. "I've been coming here for over 10 years now and it's a place that's really close to my heart. I'm excited and really optimistic, a lot went down in this event last year and I'm really looking forward to this event."
Other standouts on a long day of competition included Carissa Moore who, having narrowly lost out in a Round One 'superheat' with Stephanie Gilmore and Coco Ho, dispatched Pauline Ado with a 9.00 and a 9.17 for a blistering display of rail surfing. While under normal circumstances the crowd might have been quieted seeing their local charge on the receiving end of a one-sided clash, one of the most knowledgeable crowds on Tour couldn't help but show appreciation for an incredible display by the 3x World Champion.
Inevitably much of the clamor will surround main World Title contenders Fitzgibbons, Conlogue and Wright when competition resumes (World No. 4 Sage Erickson was eliminated in Round Two by Bianca Buitendag), with an excellent swell forecast for next week under classic fall conditions, principle threats to their taking out an invaluable win here in southwest France could well come from the veterans Moore and Gilmore, whose undeniable class shined through today.