Words: Mimi LaMontagne
When Mike Parsons and Dino Andino stroll by to say hello, and you’re caught red handed lighting a roll of toilet paper on fire while it trails behind the clenched bum of a young Portugese skater, you know things have gone wrong. This is [barely] night one, of the Roxy Pro, Hossegor. Ah, France… you bring out the best.
A chilly morning, conducive to the egg yolk turning round in my pulsing head, brought with it the introduction of round one. The beach was plastered with baguettes and boobies, slowly accumulating as the girls marched through the heats. Le Penon was filled, per the norm, with elaborately decorated campervans and a vast array of local accents; bings, bongs, thongs, and everything in between. Isn’t it just so, Euro...
With a 7:30 start and a 6:30 finish, it was a long day in the office for the ladies. Steph Gilmore kicked off round one with a victory, paving the way to round three for our World Title contenders, Carissa[no.1], Tyler [no.2] and Courtney [no.3]. As the morning fog lifted and the tide dwindled alongside, the waves seemed to follow suit. A recent swell passing through the Hossegor arena saw it’s first downfall, a premonition of the end slated to come by the 27th. Frustration at its finest for our lovely, oh-so-patient contestants.
Despite conditions, it seemed to be smooth sailing through to the late afternoon when the horn blew at sunset, moving the competition into round four. Living up to the name, Sally F., Carissa M., Tyler W. and Courtney C. secured their places in the quarter finals.
My friend, how the tides have changed. The glorious, curling face of Le Penon has decided to once again grace us with her offshore, barreling beauty. Infinite upgrade from the mediocre, to put it nicely, wish-wash of Day One.
Walking down toward the contest site, the first person I run into it Taj. He’s just come out of the water [bear in mind that the sun has only been up for half an hour] with two friends, and although shrouded by the gloom of the morning marine layer, he is literally glowing. I went to say “congratulations” for the pregnancy, but he took it in terms of his recent victory at Trestles. Understandable, yet slightly disappointing.
Ms Gilmore and Ms Blanchard had first dibs on the waves this morning, although due to a few-too-many snoozes I arrived a bit late. C’est la vie. It’s round two and the local French contingent is compensating for the lack of crowd with whoops and vigorous ‘Allez, Allez!’. Their cheers are directed towards Pauline Ado, who is taking full advantage of the long, smooth faces that seem to never stop rolling through. She goes on to win the heat by 5.9 pts against Sofia Mulanovich. There is a well-known local lass, around 50 years old, who seems to be very excited by this victory. From the gusto she put into kicking the sand in enthusiasm, and her strange exuberance towards strangers (ie., me), I’d say she was still drunk from last night.
Oh, but the surf! The glorious, rolling, crisp cut lines! It’s going to be a good day. Next up is Malia Manuel, a girl whom I feel is often overlooked. One of those that just can’t seem to cut a break. This fine morning her name rang on the loudspeakers. So often that people were asking whom her competitor was, including myself. When you watch Malia surf, it’s obvious that she puts out all that she’s got. She took the surf today like a lady who knows what she wants. A bull by the horns; a horse by the stirrups; a beer by the bong. Yet Sage Erikson, Newport local and tour extraordinaire, remained victorious. Again, c’est la vie.
We move on to the quarter finals, the most memorable of which was the heat between Sally and Steph; both unique characters here in France. Sally, an incredibly competitive surfer with a lack of pressure, now that she’s out of the race for the finals. Steph, an undefeated champ here in the Hossegor area, bearing a less-than-expected track record for the year. Ms Fitz jumpstarted the heat with about five perfect cutbacks, Steph following with an incomplete barrel on what looked like the best wave of the day. Over the next few minutes the two carried on in suit, giving the crowd what was hands down the highest level of surfing throughout the competition. When the loudspeakers start blaring yee-haws, you know you’ve done well. Sally went on to score the first 10-pt ride of the competition and continued on to the semi finals, where she knocked out the world number one, Carissa Moore, and made the final round.
And then there were two… Tyler Wright and Sally Fitzgibbons. It’s the Final Round. The Big Kahuna. The Cake Taker. Heat waves have hit the beach of Le Penon, and it now looks like a sea of very light, melted, milk chocolate. Spectators, surfers and press have all stripped down to the skivvies, leaving those still wearing shirts bearing the burden of sweaty back syndrome. That’s [ironically] not hot.
The heat is comparable to a see-saw. Sally is the first to put a score on the board, 6.33, Tyler following with 7.0. This pattern continues steadily until Tyler puts a 10 point score on the board, the fruits of a small air and two perfect turns on an outside set wave. The only other 10-point ride during the competition… While this would rattle most surfers, Sally takes it as an opportunity to rear that, that, bloodthirsty side she hides so well. With less than two minutes left, Tyler needs a 7.67, and Poseidon just wasn’t having it.
As Sally’s first win of the season, it was clear she wanted it. She needed it. She deserved it. After champagne, shenanigans and a much-needed swim in the sea, I sat down for a quick chat with the lady of the hour… a bridesmaid no longer.
“This is the most incredible feeling. It’s been a bit of a journey to get to this win this year and I thought, you know, I feel like I’m surfing great and a lot better than last year, so I just need to hang in there. Get those heat smarts going, and today I thought I was surfing really smart and really well. It had a little bit of a Bells Bowl feel this morning, offshore with those first couple of sessions. And when I won my first tour win down at Bells I matched up against Steph and then Carissa and Tyler, now, in the final. I came into it thinking that I wanted to match up against the best surfers today. It was not easy though, especially when Tyler dropped that ten. It was a little challenging with the surf because we started on the right this morning and then the tide drained out. Yesterday we went on break and really didn’t surf it again until that right was working in the afternoon. I was all about thinking, ok, we’re going left now. You have to switch that mentality and be able to adapt. It was a whole different ball game.
Not having that pressure of being in the top two in the race, it seems like it carries an incredible weight. When they feel like you’re they’re not thinking about it, you can notice it in their surfing; just being light and free. Going into this event, I knew I wanted to win. A lot of people say, ‘I’m just going out there to have fun,’ but not me. I said that I was going to win, and I knew it was mine. ‘I’m gonna take it.’
As for Portugal, I’m really looking forward to it. I’ve had some great events there, some ISA’s and a couple of QS’s at that same beach. It’ll be a good finish and I think there are some great vibes this year on the European leg. It’s always such a good time. All those baguettes, there’s just so many carbs. I always tell people… carbs are your friend!”