With a thick fog blanketing the lineup at the Quik Pro France this morning, contest officials at La Graviere put the comp on hold until visibility improved enough to kickstart rounds four and five. After a nearly five-hour delay, the fog finally lifted and the carnage began.
With the sweeping tides that have come to define the French beachbreaks, the conditions in the lineup today seemed to alter with every passing heat. When you're competing in a constantly morphing lineup, experience proves to be invaluable, and on the World Tour right now, there's no one more seasoned in an array of conditions than Slater.
Surfing against Brazilian rookie Gabriel Medina and past event champion Ace Buchan in their Round 4 non-elimination matchup, Slater opened up the heat with an enormous no-hands, full-rotation frontside air to draw first blood. Just a few short seconds later, Medina answered back with his own tweaked frontside whip, showing Slater that when it comes to stomping airs, it won't be easy outdoing this new Brazilian contingency. Kelly would counter with a flurry of high-speed rail work on his backup wave that earned him a high 8 while the Brazilian would mix mach-speed turns with a mammoth air to lock in a similar score. In the end, Slater edged out Medina by the narrowest of margins and took the win with a .3 lead over the rookie. As has become par for the season, the scoring for the heat was called into question.
"The waves are pretty fun out there and I have a good board under my feet," Slater said to the ASP. "I guess I'm comfortable out there. I've been coming to France for so many years that I'm used to the waves here and I know what to look for when it's changing."
When the ASP asked Slater about his hopes for an 11th world title, he replied, "I haven't worked the numbers out, but they may be too far behind at this point. Owen is obviously still in there and he's really strong at the remaining events so I wouldn't be surprised if it came down to the wire. There is still a lot that can happen."
As Slater alluded, Owen Wright has been on a competitive tear this season and has gone toe-to-toe with Slater in the finals of the last three events, faltering at Tahiti and Trestles but winning in New York. But in his Round 5 heat today against Jordy Smith, Owen failed to find his form and was eliminated from the event, putting a slight damper on his chance to challenge Slater's rating's lead.
For Jordy, who entered the European leg of the tour in eighth place, his showing today proved to be a confidence booster for the South African.
"I had a great time out there," Smith said to the ASP. "I just approached it as a free surf. Obviously, Owen is in the title race and he has a bit of pressure on him. My girlfriend actually gave me the best advice as I didn't have the best heat before. She said, 'Babe, if it ain't working, change it up.' That's what I did and it worked really well."
QUIKSILVER PRO FRANCE ROUND 4 RESULTS:
Heat 4: Taj Burrow (AUS) 17.43, Damien Hobgood (USA) 14.13, Owen Wright (AUS) 11.10
QUIKSILVER PRO FRANCE ROUND 5 RESULTS:
Heat 2: Gabriel Medina (BRA) Advances Over Jeremy Flores (FRA) *Flores withdraws due to ankle injury sustained in Round 3 of competition.