Around mid-morning today at Plage des Culs Nus, Hossegor, the distinctive yellow of the Jeep Leaderboard ratings leader's jersey could be seen chasing down a mysto, not-quite-ready yet bombie to the north of the event scaffolding. It was vaguely reminiscent of a time gone by when John John Florence might have been content to pursue clutch heats off on a distant peak, surfing by himself, seemingly for himself.
Meanwhile, out in front on the main contest bank, local wildcard hero Joan Duru had set about putting Florence and Conner Coffin into combos, unleashing a vicious weaponry that's seen him all but secure his qualification for 2017 Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour. With a potent blend of a fast, light touch packaged with exclamation-point power, the goofy -- who was born and raised in the uncelebrated commune of Ondres some 10 miles to the south -- was growing into the spoiler role with every incoming set.
But rather than crack under the considerable pressure the Frenchman exerted, Florence seemed to relish the challenge. Making his way down to the principal sandbar front and center, John John refused to let an untimely rail wobble on an opening move unsettle him. Instead, he got himself out of combo with a two-turn counterpunch before driving into the lead with a long, speedy tuberide with fewer than five minutes to go.
"When I first paddled out it was really messy out front and the guys in the first heats this morning were struggling, I looked up the beach and it had some really clean peaks," Florence explained. "It's constantly changing here and it got really clean down here with some long walls. Gabriel [Medina] and I are just battling, and we're taking it heat by heat, hopefully the rest of the week has some good waves for us".
Gabriel Medina's rude Quik Pro France form might make for uncomfortable viewing for title race rivals. And with the bar set singularly high, today the Brazilian showed little desire to mar his track record at a break where he has had considerable success.
As the tide heaved back off the high-water mark in earnest, it opened up all kinds of potential conundrums in the form of troublesome deep spots, untimely rips and suddenly-softening shoulders. But Medina, the 2014 World Champion, kept the bit between his teeth by staying super busy, rolling the dice on pretty much any and everything that dared show its face.
The speculative approach paid instant dividends -- not so much "building house" as laying ambitious plans for an opulent chateau. And with his Round Three berth secured at the expense of Dusty Payne and Ryan Callinan, whether or not a baying mob can storm the gates will be revealed over the coming days.
"You can't take anything for granted out here" observed a studious Adrian Buchan after advancing from Heat 7 over Stu Kennedy and Jeremy Flores. Buchan, who won the event in back in 2008, knows even the best laid plans must be open to on-the-hop adjustments, as ever-evolving conditions can leave even in-form surfers high and dry, sitting on throw-away scores all heat long.
The capricious nature of Hossegor's notoriously fickle beachbreaks continued to show their wildly diverse hand, much less seeding through the morning. A beautiful flaring tube one minute can turn into brutal shut-down the next, or a mere mirage at the whims of a baffling array of oceanographic parameters. Top seeds including Smith, Wilkinson and Wilson did little to curry favor with the most fickle mistress of them all.
As they join the likes of Day 1 casualties Parkinson and Slater in a stacked Round Two draw, some of Round One's defeated will be in scintillating matchups. Some surfers will be scrapping for both their futures on tour, while ohers will be battling to keep their title races alive. In either case, the narratives promise to make for compelling viewing.
Watch the Quik Pro France live daily starting at 8 a.m. CEST, and catch a full-day replay starting at 11 a.m. PDT.