Australia's Connor O'Leary and Costa Rica's Brisa Hennessy have just won the Quiksilver and ROXY Pro France in clean, head-high conditions at Les Culs Nus in Hossegor. The victories put both surfers in a strong position to qualify for the 2022 Championship Tour via their standings on this season's Challenger Series.
"I'm so happy to win and to have all the support from my amazing family and friends it's a really special moment for me," said Hennessy afterwards. "India is a great competitor, I'm so proud of her and I believe she deserves to be at the top. It was definitely back-to-back and the waves totally changed and I was grateful I got that wave at the end."
After two seasons on the Championship Tour, Hennessy failed to retain her spot at the end of the 2021 season but today she took a big step forward in her requalifying effort for next year. Her path to the Final was seamless as she defeated all the form surfers to claim her first Challenger Series victory. Coming into France ranked 2nd after a 5th place finish in Portugal, Hennessy has moved into 1st, overtaking Hawaii's Gabriela Bryan, who had an uncharacteristic first-round exit in France after being in lethal for the two prior events.
In the Final, Hennessy swung first with a quick two-turn combo and a 6.83 to jump in an early lead and apply pressure on Robinson. The next exchange happened on smaller waves that didn't offer quite as much wall to work with and both surfers walked away with an average number for their respective efforts, the Australian with a slight advantage.
Under priority, Hennessy managed to find a couple of inside lefts to further improve her lead while her opponent was unable to position herself in the shifting sets out the back. On the 5-minute mark, Robinson finally found herself on a bomb and tagged it a number of times on her backhand for a 7.83 to turn the heat. But the Costa Rican answered right away with two massive turns for an excellent 8.40 to seal the deal on her ROXY Pro France victory.
Robinson's runner-up finish today marks her career-best result so far. The Australian has been building momentum since the Challenger Series started at the US Open and made a huge statement today. The result opens up a path to qualification for 2022.
"I'm super stoked on making my first Final at the Challenger Series level," Robinson said. "I knew going up against Brisa was going to be tough, but ultimately my goal is to make the CT so I better get used to it. I'm super excited to go to Haleiwa next, where I'm from we have a lot of waves and power so I feel like I'm going to be comfortable there. The whole Aussie crew we're such a close bunch and to see Connor win was really cool!"
In the Men's Final, a pretty even first half of the heat saw O'Leary and Bourez and exchange similar scores on the rights and lefts of Les Culs Nus with an advantage for the Australian. O'Leary pushed the Tahitian's requirement a touch higher with a good little left he punctuated with a clean straight air midway through the heat.
Unfortunately for Bourez, the rights that gave him his best scores so far had disappeared, and the lefts clearly favored O'Leary's forehand attack and air game. As the clock ran down, Bourez was unable to fight back and O'Leary walked away with the win.
"I feel amazing, it's been a huge day," O'Leary said. "I'm literally on top of the world right now and cramping up, can't wait to have a beer! I'll just really enjoy the afternoon with the lads, they've been incredibly supportive so we'll try to keep it up and finish the year strong!"
After a difficult start both in California and Portugal, the Australian from Cronulla needed something big in France and delivered with his first major win since Ballito in 2016. Today's 10,000 points moved him up 94 spots into 6th on the Challenger Series rankings and virtually within reach of a fourth season among the world's best in 2022.
Tahiti's Bourez was in a similarly tough position coming ranked 108th before today. The Championship Tour veteran, a former winner on tour at Pipeline, Margaret River and Rio, grabbed the runner-up points to move into the Top 20 with one event remaining at Haleiwa in Hawaii, a location where Bourez has won in the past.
"Second place is good but first is always better," Bourez smiled after the Final. "I've really tried my best and unfortunately it got a little tricky at the end there and he got the best of me. Connor's one of the best surfers on tour and I want the best for him so I'm really happy for him. Hawaii and the good waves are coming so I'm really going to focus on that right now."
Other big movers coming out of France this week include Lucca Mesinas, Joao Chianca and Carlos Munoz, who all moved within the qualifying Top 12 currently. Semifinalist Mateus Herdy got closer in 17th position, and Kanoa Igarashitakes the rankings lead, but has already qualified via the CT.
In the women's rankings, Sawyer Lindblad and Vahine Fierro both move into the current Top 6 and Caitlin Simmers regains a little breathing room with her Semifinal finish in France that anchors her in 3rd on the rankings.
Men's Challenger Series Top 12:
1 - Kanoa Igarashi (JPN)
2 - Ezekiel Lau (HAW)
3 - Jake Marshall (USA)
4 - Imaikalani Devault (HAW)
5 - Nat Young (USA)
6 - Connor O'Leary (AUS)
6 - Lucca Mesinas (PER)
6 - Joao Chianca (BRA)
9 - Liam O'Brien (AUS)
9 - Griffin Colapinto (USA)
11 - Carlos Munoz (CRI)
12 - Callum Robson (AUS)
Women's Challenger Series Top 6:
1 - Brisa Hennessy (CRI)
2 - Gabriela Bryan (HAW)
3 - Caitlin Simmers (USA)
4 - India Robinson (AUS)
5 - Sawyer Lindblad (USA)
6 - Vahine Fierro (FRA)
The final stop on the 2021 Challenger Series will bring some of the world's best surfers to Haleiwa, Hawaii from November 26 - December 7, 2021.