SLATER FALTERS Mick Capitalizes and France Rages On

It was damn cold this morning. How cold? Well there was snow on the nearby Pyrenees, polar bears were playing ice hockey on the shore, and groups of penguins were burning tables on the beach to keep warm, complaining about the cold northerly wind. It was so frigid that Occy wore his shoes and socks down to the water's edge for the first heat of the day against Parko. Now, I couldn't make that shit up. His last-minute warm feet trick didn't work though and he lost to his good mate, despite one trademark Occ layback barrel.

The question is: will that two meters cost Kelly his ninth world title? FULL SCREEN PICS

Speaking of tricks, Kelly Slater couldn't take one, and in one of the boil-overs of the year, lost his third round heat to Tahitian wildcard Michael Bourez. The conditions were funky, with below sand level supersucks offering five foot tubes if you were lucky and long lulls and closeouts if you weren't. Bourez, who Tommy Whitaker described as having the body of a Spartan, scored one solid dredger, leaving Kelly needing a good score with five minutes to go. He threw the dice with two minutes left on the clock, catching a little two footer that started to grow down the line. Up in the surfer's area there was a collective roar-groan as a four to five foot wedge started appearing down the beach just at the end of Kelly's wave; if he could get there it was going to be a mother of a backdoor, a sick tube, a massive score and a world title race right back on. With his little wave dying, he bounced and pumped and as the crowd held their breath, just ran out of steam, failing by about two meters to make the section. Sure enough, the thing went square, and that was that. The question is: will that two meters cost Kelly his ninth world title?

"He could have made that," said Jake Paterson after the wave. "We just replayed it 30 times, if he'd just started pumping a little earlier. It was such a Kelly wave. How many times have you seen him get a miracle wave like that at the last moment and nail it?"

This time though, it wasn't meant to be. That left Fanning, in the very next heat, with a golden opportunity to whack some nails in the coffin. And so he did, using his committed forehand belts as a sledgehammer. Up until then, the judges hadn't been rewarding turns, just tubes, but faced with the speed and sheer commitment of Fanning's surfing they had no choice. It was another supremely confident heat, when it mattered.

Later in the day, Andy Irons also went down to young Aussie Luke Munro, in a heat starved of waves. "I actually feel pretty bad," said Munro after the heat. "I don't like to win by sitting with priority. I'd rather win with good surfing and good scores." It's an admirable sentiment, but either way a win's a win, and with Andy gone, it opens the door for Taj, and maybe Parko too, to challenge Mick. They both won their fourth round heats, the only two held late in the afternoon and will sleep better than most tonight, knowing they are in the quarters.

Taj, again, had scraped through his earlier heat and I reckon he's feeling a knee injury way more than he’s letting on. "Deal with the knee and now it's the time deal with the mind, you gotta concentrate and let it go," advised Tom Carroll to Taj just before his heat. And yet, he's still in the hunt and Slater and Iron's losses will be better than any cortisone injection right now. He also flared big time for the first real time in the last heat of the day.

And so now already there's talk of tonight's festivities. There's a high stakes poker game at the Quiky mansion, a Brazilian beach party at the Rock Food, Bruce and Andy were heading to the Cafe de Paris to let off steam and God knows what else is going on God knows where. Its France and it's barrelling, Tom Carroll and an unbummed Kelly are playing a guitar on my right shoulder behind me (I shit you not). I'll tell ya, it's a pretty good place to be. I’ll let you know what goes down tomorrow.