In the dying light of an epic day of performance surfing, Filipe Toledo came back from an early Round 1 loss to supercharge his World Title tilt. His late clutch display capped 14 heats of radical surfing, held across two banks in magical conditions that only France can offer.
It all kicked off rather slowly. After a seven day wait, then a 15-minute delay following a heat restart and finally a 30-minute holdup due to fog, Jordy Smith eventually opened his account in the Quik Pro France this morning. After slotting into a tube he emerged to launch a huge rotation. The waves may have looked perfect, but it was Smith's Round 1, Heat 1 display of performance surfing that set the tone for the day.
As the early morning slate-gray skies gave way to bluebird skies and offshore winds, the world's best surfers discovered they had to ignore the dreamy looking French beachbreaks and concentrate on surfing to their considerable limits. Perfection existed, but two good scoring waves remained difficult to obtain.
Smith would score a 7.83 for that barrel-to-air combo, but still needed his competitive experience and tuberiding skills in the dying seconds to defeat the impressive Zeke Lau.
"To get a barrel in France is one of the best feelings in surfing," Smith said after his win. "To get one with 30 seconds to go in a heat after selling your competitor a wave, well, that's one of the best feelings ever. I may not be in the World Title race, but I'm putting pressure on myself to achieve results that reflect that I am one of the best surfers in the world."
Italo Ferreira, who very much is in World Title contention, was another of the day's standout performers. The Brazilian was surfing at a pace that few can match, using his variety of turns, explosive power and magic equipment to log a heat total of 13.40.
"My board is the same board I rode when I won at Bells Beach this year," said Ferreira. "The waves here are powerful and great for my backhand so it worked. It was hard to find the barrel out there so I tried to move fast and surf as hard as I could."
Julian Wilson too struck a high performance note early, mixing tube riding and progression in his first wave of the event. The 8.50 for the barrel followed by an alley-oop was the day's highest.
"You can't afford to grow into the event, let alone heats," explained the current World No.4. "If you see an opportunity you have to hit it early. Performance surfing is very achievable out there even if looks like a tube-fest. You get to throw the dice a lot so you can always give yourself opportunities to try some fun stuff."
Gabriel Medina had less opportunities for the "fun stuff" in his clash with Ryan Callinan and Tomas Hermes. It wasn't so much his performance as his use of priority and positioning that won him a low scoring heat. The Brazilian is not only the defending Quik Pro France Champion but is also vying to become the first surfer since Kelly Slater in 1996 to win three CT events in succession. There is also the small manner of a World Title at stake.
"I'm doing what I love, I'm doing it well and I'll just keep on focusing on myself," the 2014 World Champion said after moving into Round 3. "If I surf well and win events and I can win the Title." When asked if he would watch Filipe Toledo's heat, which followed his, Medina reiterated his point. "There's no real need, as I said, I'm just interested in my own game."
If he had he would have seen Toledo put in a rare sub-par performance in Round 1. The Jeep Leader couldn't match any of the heights of his fellow contenders, losing to Connor O'Leary in the Round's only big upset.
"If you get that one really good wave early, then you are set for the heat, but that didn't happen for me," said Toledo. "However it's part of the game. I've had bad heats this year and came back to win Finals. There's no stress at all. I'll get ready, rest and reset for the next heat."
Toledo was true to his word. He surfed his Round 2 heat late in the afternoon against the wildcard and local hope Jorgann Couzinett and dominated the sudden-death heat from the start to post an impressive win under considerable pressure. By that stage the competition had moved to a rip bowl 300-yards to the north that was dealing impressively with the large high tide.
The powerful lefthanders had already allowed Mikey Wright and Griffin Colapinto to post the two highest heat scores of Round 1 and Toledo easily atoned for his earlier display. His heat total of 15.84 would have been the best of the 14 heats surfed, until Ryan Callinan finished the day as it started with a mind-blowing display of performance surfing.
"I watched all the heats and knew the level of surfing that was required," said Callinan, whose win last week in the QS 10,000 EDP Billabong Pro had secured his wildcard status in France. "I was determined to push my surfing as hard as I could. That is the only way to succeed on a day like today."
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