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THE FRANCE EVENT was stop seven of ten on the 2012 ASP World Tour, and the conclusion featured four semifinalists that span three generations, and a chasmic difference in competitive attitudes.
The results were crucial to this year’s world title race. Three of the four competitors gained critical ground on then No. 1, Mick Fanning, who fell unexpectedly in the early rounds. And then there was the guy who just doesn’t care — the same guy cited by many peers as the best surfer in the world.
That guy is Dane Reynolds; in the end, he played the perfect spoiler role. Reynolds no longer competes regularly, but attended the event through a sponsorship invite. Known more for innovation and style than competitive prowess, he advanced easily through the early rounds, including a dominating heat win over the event’s top seed, Mick Fanning. Reynolds squared off in Semifinal No. 1 against 19-year-old phenom, John John Florence, winning narrowly with two high-scoring barrels late in the heat.
Florence is widely recognized as surfing’s new golden child, and despite his youth he’s having no problems matching that recognition with results. In his rookie year he has stormed to No. 4 in the rankings. A surprise? Yes, and no. He’s been in the spotlight since he was seven, so his talent precedes him. But the true merit of his achievements has been overcoming the burden of expectations. The surf world pinned world titles on this kid before he started puberty; now he’s throwing the ball back in their court with a chance to prove them right earlier than anyone would have expected.
The other half of the draw saw reigning 11-time ASP World Champion Kelly Slater take on one half of the Australian usual suspects, Joel Parkinson. (Parko shares this title with good mate Fanning.) Slater won in a close heat — something all too common for Parkinson. Parko has yet to win a World Title despite several worthy efforts, and this year’s race might be his last best chance. Despite the semifinal loss in France, he moved to No. 1 in the rankings going into the final three events of the year. With Slater still reigning, and a fresh new elite coming up, you could easily make the case: It’s now or never.
For Mr. Slater, nothing more than a 12th World Title was at stake, and he stepped up like he knew he had to — this from a guy who is 40 years old. His 20-year domination of competitive surfing will hardly be tarnished if a 12th title isn’t won, but that’s not how Slater thinks. He is after one thing, as showcased in the Final against Reynolds, and that’s going out on top.
So what do we have? Three events left, and the most dramatic World Title race in recent memory. The next two events in Portugal, and Santa Cruz, California are not likely to decide the champ, so look for it all to come down to the biggest stage in surfing: Pipeline. The North Shore of Oahu’s only event on the ASP World Tour is set for December 8–20. You can count on four people to be there. Two will be Australian, one has been there forever, and the other still has his driving permit.