As the Quiksilver Pro waiting period arrives, there are only three ASP World Tour events remaining to determine the title. At this point it's really looking like a battle between Mick Fanning and Kelly Slater. There are definitely some other long shot contenders, including Taj Burrow, Jordy Smith and Joel Parkinson, but the task at hand is much more difficult for them as they need to win and need Kelly and Mick to lose early in events.
That being said, Europe is the land of X factors with its constantly changing tides and conditions. It's typically packed with contest holds and delays meaning that, out of all the other stops on tour, Europe is the one place you have to be truly on your game. Within the course of one day there can be a wide variety of wave types and sizes that require different boards, strategy and states of mind. One minute you're a mile out to sea and the next you're pulling into close-out barrels on the shore.
Slater and Fanning have both won in France. Most recently Fanning got the best of Slater in the final of the 2010 Quik Pro, and like today, a world title hung in the balance. They both know what needs to be done and how to do it. Fanning will be up at the crack of dawn running through his exact routine everyday, waiting for the moment to perform. He will leave nothing to chance, knowing luck favors the prepared. The true question is how bad does Slater want it? If he tries to pull his normal antics of showing up before his heat unprepared, riding boards that might not work for the conditions, he could suffer the same fate as he did last year in Peniche when he lost in the early rounds to Raoni Monteiro. Ultimately that cost him the title. Time will tell if he's adjusted his game plan accordingly.
Beyond the title race, there is a crew of surfers that have traditionally performed really well in the shifty beachbreak peaks. These guys could play a huge roll in the year-end outcome.
Julian Wilson lost a very close final to Gabriel Medina in 2011 in France. The two threw some heavy, progressive blows back and forth, but in the end Medina edged him out. In 2012 Wilson got him back with a win in a controversial final at the Rip Curl Pro in Peniche, Portugal. Wilson is coming off a huge second-place result at the Hurley Pro, and if he carries that momentum to France he will be a very dangerous draw. Medina has been struggling a bit on tour, but he's always done well in France and is sure to be frothing at the mouth to take his aerial antics to the shores of Hossegor. For a surfer like Medina it's only a matter of time before he does something crazy. I see him doing very well in France.
Michel Bourez has been on a roll. Hailing from French Polynesia, he will be feeling right at home. Bourez is also coming off a solid result at Lowers and will be hungry to do one better. The thing with Bourez's approach is that he doesn't have to do a lot moves because the ones he does are so big and powerful, they reward him. I can remember a wave from last year's Quiksilver Pro that he got a nine on for one huge backside turn. He's beaten Slater and Joel Parkinson here in the past, so he's very much capable of taking down the top guys.
Kolohe Andino had a breakthrough performance in last year's event, advancing all the way to the quarterfinals and taking out Taj Burrow in the process. Europe is very similar to the punchy beachbreaks in San Clemente and Andino seems to be right at home pulling into shore break or lofting huge airs when the wind turns onshore. He's been paying his dues for the last couple of seasons, but he's surfing incredibly well. I see him having another breakout performance this year. He is long overdue. Rookies Felipe Toledo, Nat Young and Sebastian Zietz have been performing incredibly this year and France is the perfect spot for them to excel. They have all spent a lot of time grinding in the French beachbreaks during their WQS careers and that experience will pay off as they know how to adapt to the ever-changing conditions.
The events in Europe are huge this year. There's a title on the line and a hungry pack of kids coming up. As a fan of surfing, I can't wait to watch the action and see who comes out on top.