With the addition of two wildcards to the competition, Hossegor's cold-water barrel battle is heating up. The 2014 Quiksilver Pro France will see two highly distinctive surfers paddle out with the world's best: New-school rebel and No. 135 on the Qualification Series (QS), Dane Reynolds (USA), and rising star Matt Banting (AUS), who is currently No. 1 in the QS standings.
Each surfer brings his own unique background and set of skills into play. First, there's the fresh-faced Banting who broke out this year with a few big wins that shot him to the top of the QS. He kicked off 2014 with a win at the 6-Star Burton Toyota Pro, beating seasoned surfer and tube-master Nathan Hedge with a pair of nine-point rides in the Final. His next title win was the Los Cabos Open of Surf, another high-rated event, where he ousted World Championship Tour (WCT) campaigner Dion Atkinson (AUS).
Banting cemented his place atop the QS the next month by taking the Prime-rated Vans US Open Junior Pro in a four-man Final. Poised for a spot on the 2015 elite Tour, the French contest will be a good time to get acquainted with him. In Round 1, he's matched up against Kelly Slater (USA) and fellow Aussie Matt Wilkinson.
The Quiksilver Pro's other wildcard isn't new to WCT competition, though he is arguably best known for performances that didn't come with a judge's score. Reynolds made his early mark with the 2006 film First Chapter. The movie featured progressive surfing sans singlets that was groundbreaking and quickly established Reynolds as a phenomenon. Numerous web clips would follow over the years, along with a reputation for mind-blowing airs and powerful on-rail turns. Even the original "Freak" has called Reynolds his favorite surfer.
And while Reynolds had some early competitive success on both the QS and the WCT, he ultimately left the elite Tour after his 2011 season, citing injury and also, arguably, suffering from a chronic lack of competitive drive. He went on to pursue other interests, including launching his brand, Summer Teeth, collaborating on surfboard design with Channel Islands, and maintaining his own blog, MarineLayerProductions.com.
Still, leaving the Tour wasn't the end of the Ventura surfer's competitive career; he showed up as a wildcard on the Gold Coast and in France for the past couple of years. And despite a reputation for inconsistency when the clock is ticking, Reynolds often has a few surprises in store: At the 2014 Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast, he topped Mick Fanning (AUS) and Adam Melling (AUS) (but, ultimately, lost in Round 3). In 2012, he made the Final at the Quiksilver Pro France, putting on a show with his biggest fan, Slater.