Recently, I began, for the first time, to feel that pro surfing may be a lost cause that I've been foolishly attached to for too long. This past Sunday I shifted my attention to something I hadn’t followed closely in some time: the mother of all mainstream, prime-time sporting events—NFL football. Three hours later I found myself in the same emotional state as before. But the NFL taught me something about being a fan: regardless of the sport you chose to follow, glaring errors will be made, controversy will arise, and hardworking athletes will get the shaft.
And that is why I’m still here, albeit late, to bring you my Fantasy Surfer Preview for the Quik Pro France. Because even though it can be frustrating, I’ll always be the biggest fan of excellent surfing. What brings the largest smile to my face is the resurgence of Kelly Slater. He continues to re-write surfing history. Heck, he’s even re-writing human physiology. Our sport, as large as we perceive it to be, is relatively small. The World Tour audience makes up only a fraction of the world's surfers, and most will never consider it a sport. But with Kelly as our ambassador, that perception starts to change and surfing seems as much a legitimate sport as any. That is the power of our 11-time world champ. And if he can effect the broader perception of surfing, imagine how that power affects his fellow competitors. Joel Parkinson, Mick Fanning, Taj Burrow—these are the most affected surfers, the ones who have been routinely victimized by the champ. The least affected are those too young to understand or necessarily care—surfers like John Florence, Gabriel Medina, and Owen Wright. Looking at the ratings, I see that recurring theme, and I see Kelly systematically eliminating his competition en route to a 12th world title.
When I picked my team for this event, I had dumpy shorepound in mind at Le Graviere, and I hope I'm right. My Fantasy Surfer team's morale is at an all time low right now and could really use a boost.
While Jordy was laying down the biggest turns ever seen at Lowers, shifting everyone's focus away from Slater, Kelly was putting the finishing touches on a competitive masterpiece. You didn’t see that, did you? Not many people actually appreciate all that Kelly does or has become. But don’t worry, he can’t possibly still be winning titles at 50, can he?
He draws from a tremendous personal strength achieved through a lifetime of steady improvements. I see him as Kelly’s main threat in the title race. Is Mick in first right now? I hardly noticed. His first two titles were very well deserved, but if he wants to pull off a third against an in form Kelly, something magical will have to happen for him as well.
In dumpy beacbreaks, kind of like the stretch of sand from just east of his house to just west of it, looks a lot like Brazil. In case you weren't paying attention, he won there this year. It’s a lot to ask of young John, but to see him in a world title race with Kelly, and to have it come down to Pipeline would be the dream scenario for the surf world. A win here makes that a lot closer to reality.
Emotionally, Jordy has been riding a very intense ride since Lowers. In my own experience, I remember feeling wronged after placing second in the final of a WQS at Durban one year. My next competition was the World Tour event at perfect J-Bay, where I arrived with the intent and focus I seldom could maintain at the time. I earned a 5th place finish against the world's best and a perfect 10-point ride—the only one of my career. Being slighted so heavily recently, Jordy will come in with laser beam focus. His intent: to surf even better than he did at Lowers. Imagine if he pulled off his finishing moves on his rides at Lowers—rides that already contained more moves than Joel. Can we please lower the scale for average surfing now? Jordy’s degree of commitment is what sets him apart, and hopefully he commits to radical surfing the rest of the year. Jordy is much more aggresive and outspoken than his South African sensibilities allow for.
While we are on the subject of scale: Medina air after his heat against Michel Bourez was a proper 10-point ride. So was Kelly’s at Bells. That’s the standard to score a 10 or even close to it, because a lot of those 9s and high 8s are a far cry from what is truly possible when the guys connect. Medina’s heats are as fascinating as they are entertaining. When he surfs he is like a batter sniffing pitches, waiting for one he likes to hit it out of the park. His slugging percentage is way up there.
I watched every wave Pat rode at Lowers, and the only mistake he made was which waves he chose in those heats—the actual surfing was top notch. By not riding the best waves though, he left the door open, which you can never do against competitors at this level. Even the smallest lapses will lead to defeat. Through the remainder of the year, we will see if Pat can take his talents and translate them into enough heat wins to requalify.
If the event flows smoothly—if Dane’s heats aren’t too early or postponed through too many lay-days—Dane will be dangerous once let loose at Le Graviere when it's doing its thing. A Dane Reynolds vs. John Florence heat live will look a lot like a scene from Dear Suburbia, and will look similarly great on everyone’s computer screens. Surfing needs Dane to take the same path as Jordy at Lowers—to put the hammer down and show everyone where we thought the Tour was headed when Jordy and Dane first qualified.
I only have enough money left for the other wildcard, and I’m hoping for Joan Duru or Marc Lacomore to get a chance. Either are solid picks, and surfers solid enough to compete with the Top 34 at Le Graviere.
Click here to choose your Fantasy Surfer team for the Quik Pro France.