Dawn broke over Hossegor this morning with deceptive calm. As the sun rose over La Gravière, lighting a picture-perfect fall day, there was a distinct smell in the air. No, it wasn't the scent of salt, sand and suncreen, but something else entirely: Redemption, with a distinct hint of stress.
If the Cascais Women's Pro was full of upsets and a shaken top shelf of the Jeep Leaderboard, the Roxy Pro France has been marked by renewed energy, resurgent drive and the palpable pressure that comes with the penultimate event of the year. None of the top dogs wanted to leave Europe with just wine stains and croissant crumbs to show for it.
Unfortunately, however, some of them will be brushing pieces of broken dreams off along with the crumbs. Among the women in the World Title race, whatever failure of focus (or ligaments) each may have suffered last week, they did whatever it took to make it to the Quarters. But that's where the neoprene met the road.
First, there was Stephanie Gilmore, who left the Cascais Women's Pro with a painful Round Two loss and the weight of disappointment on her shoulders. So far in France, she was fired up again, fueled perhaps by frustration and a renewed will to win. And by the time she got to the Quarterfinals, she had already defeated Carissa Moore -- a three-time World Champ, and longtime rival -- twice in this event. But Moore extracted her revenge just when it mattered most. Moore capped off a stellar day of surfing with a 9-point ride that tipped the scales, and brought Gilmore's run to a screeching halt.
In her post-heat interview, Gilmore was exasperated both by facing Moore an incredible three times today, and by the loss, which effectively ends her World Title run.
Next up was Sally Fitzgibbons who has clearly regrouped after a Semifinal finish in Cascais. Not that a Semi is so bad - not, that is, for most people. But for Fitzgibbons, who, at World No. 1, is so close to her first-ever Title that she can practically taste it, anything short of a win is not good enough. That, however, could change in France. Still happily wearing the Jeep Leaders' yellow jersey here in Hossegor, she took down Bianca Buitendag in their Quarterfinal match-up. While Buitendag, who's surfing as an injury replacement for Laura Enever, lost in the end, she put on a solid performance that included an 8.67 in her scoreline. This is the best she's done all season, after surfing in a handful of CTs under the same guise.
Courtney Conlogue, meanwhile, had a tougher go of things in her Quarterfinal, which pitted her and fellow Californian Lakey Peterson against each other. Like Fitzgibbons, Conlogue has been runner-up to the World Title several times (in fact, the past two years running), and is carrying the heavy, double-edged sword of dream and burden with her to every event. But unlike Fitzgibbons, Conlogue lost in the Quarters today, in the face of Peterson's rekindled competitive fire. Afterward, she told Strider Wasilewski that she'll be taking this event as a big teaching moment. What she didn't tell him was how painful it might have been to lose the event in this way.
The last heat of the day featured Tyler Wright vs. Malia Manuel. Manuel has been on a redemption run on the old continent, after missing half the season due to injury and an early loss at Lower Trestles. In Cascais, she finished in the Semis, and drafted on that up the coast at the Roxy Pro. But Wright, who has had a seemingly miraculous, if tenuous, recovery from her MCL tear, is not letting go of her Title run just yet. On the back of a Round Two exit last week, she is pushing herself (and presumably, her ligament) to the bitter end in France with a determination that eludes most run-of-the-mill mortals.
There are still some French mountains to climb, however. When the Semifinals get going, Wright will face Peterson, while Fitzgibbons will face Moore -- two Title spoilers par excellence. The rest of the field, meanwhile, dispatched in record time from the Roxy Pro, can ponder their fates over flaky pastry.