The day dawns pink and cold in the south of France. The last two months of 25 degree days and endless summer have ended. Someone has hit the autumn switch. It doesn’t get light until 7am, but with clear skies and offshore breezes, anyone within a mile of the coastline can hear the swell. A rumbling long period swell sound that promises a day of waves. 

I’m up early, woken by the whirr of the coffee machine that had been punched on by Ryan Callinan. It’s the day before the start of the Quik Pro and along with every other member of the top 34 of the men, top 18 of the women, the media, locals, surf fans, industry, cat, dogs and ferrets, Ryan and his coach Dog Marsh all heading to the competition site. Hossegor has gone peak surf city.

It’s been a whirlwind week for the Novocastrian. In his original plans he was due right now to be heading up to his uncle’s place in Mackay with his girl Nina. His win in Ericeira, the 10,000 QS points, 40 grand of greenbacks and a wildcard spot in the Quik Pro France means his next two weeks, and potentially his life, has changed dramatically. Instead of hitting North Queensland, Nina is now heading to Europe. And Ryano is suddenly one of the most dangerous wildcards of the year. 

Ryan celebrating in Ericeira, before making a beeline for France. WSL/Poullenot

Everyone makes a beeline for the event site. Last week, the right and left peak that has been there for three months was obliterated by the first solid swell since summer and no one knows what has replaced it. It’s six foot and lumpy, with some morning sickness a hangover from the yesterday’s onshores. But there’s peaks, a powerful, longer left and shorter shiftier right. The expression session is in full force. I think about adding my presence to the lineup and exercising some futility. 

Instead I had down to La Graviere. The sand there too has been shifted, but with high tide and six foot of swell, there is lumpy wedged detonating on the shore. There is also a 40-year-old muscular man with long blonde hair who is doing his pre-body bash stretches completely naked. Yep, we are in France all right. 

I paddle out. There’s a ripper on a 4’6” (I asked him) pulling into closeout barrels. Another guy is using a SUP to tow himself onto to his Alaia. I don’t know why either. Michel Bourez and Ace Buchan are splitting a peak, leaving me repeatedly in the middle. Kai Lenny keeps rolling into the outside roll throughs. Turns out he can surf waves under 50-foot after all. 

Then the tide drops out and the winds come up. The contest bank remains busy, all day. Most of the pros have booked in two sessions of practice rounds. Boards are being tested to be either mothballed or discarded. There’s 35 surf coaches, double the photographers, plus surf schools, autograph hunters, bikini clad girls and punters all frenzying and frothing in the day before a big event.

The next morning, the opening day of the waiting period, sees a dropping swell and lighter winds. That trend continues before an Atlantic shit storm of onshores, rain and 10 foot ragged swell kicks in for the weekend. The consensus is they’ll want to get a start and get some heats under their belts.  I’ll be there. Doing nude stretches. This is France, after all, why fight it?