The Roxy Pro Biarritz is usually awash with the tension attached to possibility, hope and fear. The energy tethered to world titles. In 2011, Carissa Moore won her first title in Biarritz, dethroning four-time world champion Steph Gilmore. Last year, Gilmore was all smiles as she reclaimed it, simultaneously winning the event. Again. For the first time in at least three years, there's absolutely no chance of a world champion being crowned on French sand, but the old anticipation is still there.
Moore currently trails Tyler Wright by just 1,800 points in the title race. The top four surfers are ranked so closely right now that a win by Sally Fitzgibbons or Courtney Conlogue (and a stumble by Moore or Wright) could rapidly change the entire scenario. With such an unstable ranking, it could, potentially, take all three of the remaining events to determine a world champion, which would take us all the way to the freshly minted EDP Cascais Girls' Pro in October.
Next week, the Top 17 land in Biarritz for the season's sixth WCT event. Biarritz has everything that's great about Paris, minus everything that's not so great about Paris. (Namely, the landlockedness.) If you've never been, just imagine glistening, life-sized sandcastles on the edges of picturesque cliffs and white-sand beaches, on the edge of a lucid, blue sea. And chocolate. And crepes. And waves. (Sometimes.)
Though the Basque Coast can get some killer Atlantic swell (lest we forget last year's Quik Pro France, just up the road in Hossegor), the Grande Plage in Biarritz isn't a wave that's known for its immaculate power. Nor is July high swell season in these parts. Accordingly, the forecast for the Roxy Pro's quick, five-day waiting period looks a bit drab: Mostly short-period one-footers. Onshore winds = the cherry on top of that Tasti D-Lite sundae.
Perhaps it's because I was reared on temperamental Atlantic beachies, but I do find a value in observing how world-class surfers navigate unimpressive surf. I mean, it's not exactly like watching them navigate pumping Cloudbreak, but it does take a special set of skills to make miniscule, messy waves look even remotely fun. That being said, contest director Lisa Andersen will probably be feeling some pressure next week.
Roxy Pro reigning queen Gilmore's recent foot fracture has cramped her style this year, even keeping her out of the Rio comp in May. But the top five have been volleying victories all season and, honestly, the stats point to one of them winning this event. However, small waves and shifting sands often equate to tricky conditions, and I want to talk about three surfers who I think are due for a win: Pauline Ado, Lakey Peterson, and Bianca Buitendag.
France's Pauline Ado is 13th right now. She's in her third year on the circuit and she's yet to win a WCT event, but she's been looking super fit all season. 2013 has shown us that when she's on her game, she's a definite threat -- she took out Laura Enever en route to the quarterfinals at the season-opening Roxy Pro Gold Coast -- and she hails from the Bay of Biscay.
Buitendag is a rookie. Yes, she is. But does she look like a rookie? No. She is currently ranked 8th. She finished third at Rio's Barra da Tijuca, another finicky beach break. As a Roxy surfer, France is basically her second home.
Finally, you've got Peterson. She put forth one of the most inspiring performances on one of the greatest days of women's surfing at Bells earlier this year, taking a third-place finish to an on-fire Moore. Then she took two fifths, and the funny thing is, she's done it all by simply relaxing. I wish that my relaxing looked like hers. She hasn't won a Tour event since last year's US Open and now, she's peeking over Gilmore's shoulder, just 1,550 points shy of a royal overthrow. The noble port of Biarritz may just be the perfect setting.
The Roxy Pro Biarritz begins on July 10 in Biarritz, France.