Had the organisers stuck to last year's window they’d have struggled to run the Quik Pro. As it is, the swell tap looks to turn on just in time and rumours are of a great sandbank to handle the sort of numbers we’re likely to see. Add in a 2010 ex-hurricane re-run and it's shaping up to be one of the most interesting forecasts in years.
- Had organisers stuck to the original window they wouldn’t have been able to run both Quik and Roxy pros without extending the waiting period.
- We are almost certainly going to see westerly hurricane swell as we did in 2010.
- The contest is based at Culs Nuls, which saw the epic barrel shootout of that year.
- The banks look really interesting and very obviously defined.
- Conditions may push beyond the numbers we need at times.
- Overall: we have consistent swell and high pressure setting up offshore winds for the start of the competition window.
The contest schedule is a difficult blend of practical considerations, but an end of September window for the Quik Pro has always seemed like a good shout. Warm post-summer water and weather meets the start of a winter North Atlantic season that, in full gear, can deliver too much as often as too little. This year's shift back a fortnight was a modest change, designed to more sensibly align European 'QS competitions and allow the women's and men's events to run simultaneously, but the ramifications are pronounced. A trawl through over 30 years of archival data on the MSW computers demonstrates that October delivers conditions at, or exceeding, the gatepost 6ft@10 needed to goad the shorebreak barrels into full throated life almost three times as readily as September. Twofold if you consider only days with contestable winds (which hints at October’s ability to bring stormy conditions as well as more consistent swell).
Seasoned veterans of this stretch of coast at this time of year won’t have managed to avoid the occasionally tempestuous nature of autumn weather. A solid, stormy Biscay blow-in is not unusual. Onshore winds can run for a good few days at a spell and rain can be a fixture alternating with almost mid-summer conditions around the middle of the day. Nonetheless flat in October is pretty damn rare. If you track back as far as 2009 you can find a three day run of less than a foot of swell, but nothing to compare to over a week in the same window this year. If the WSL had chosen to stick they’d have come unstuck after a couple of great opening days, and would have had to extend the waiting period to compete both men's and women's competitions.
The Spin Up: Stormy weather and bumpy swell
In contrast to this unusual, unseasonal flat spell is the speed with which things are likely to switch on by the middle of the week. While the GFS model (which underpins most of our website forecasts) has been operating some way below its normal accuracy in the 5 day range recently, and we’ve seen some big bounces around in the competition window over the last week or so, the general theme is pretty clear: A larger, relatively complex, low pressure system is bringing swell from the south west then west at the start of the competition waiting period. One of the reasons for the large shifts in the forecast has been the exact position of the southern edge of this system, with relatively subtle shifts south moving the outlook from one of solid swell to one where the bulk will offload onto Galicia and miss the French corner of the Bay of Biscay.
The Labrador Sea Low
As this southerly low runs over the Bay of Biscay a second low pressure forms 2000 miles away in the Labrador Sea. As the southerly low moves north, these systems combined set up an almost perfect NW fetch pushing three days of swell towards the sandbanks of Hossegor. This angle is perfect – it’ll look great on the lump of sand just to the north of the contest site on which contest director Alain Riou has told us will be his main focus.
Beyond this we’ll almost certainly experience a repeat of 2010’s Igor in the form of a recurved ex-Hurricane Joaquin of some sort. Already the strongest, most northerly storm in decades this tropical storm is predicted, now, to avoid landfall and swing back east as it enters colder waters. This transformation to a normal mid-latitude cold-core storm isn’t exceptional but the prediction that the storm will maintain its structure during this phase is unusual, as are the potential for 50t+ seas during this mid latitude phase. As with Igor a blast of solid, long period, west swell wouldn’t be part of a perfect competition narrative and, despite the excellent looking sandbank, might actually bring a pause to competition. Alternatively, should the storm drop further south, the bulk of any swell could unload on western Spain - there's some big variation still in play. After the weekend the longer range forecast suggests we resume a pattern of NW swell that, at this stage, again hits the magic numbers, although the GFS model hasn't been offering it's usual reliability in the 5 day plus range over the last week or so.
If the latest forecast does come to pass, with largely high pressure bringing good local weather and cooler October mornings almost assuring a long period of offshore conditions on most days, the contest organisers headache might be only how discerning to be in the opening days with so much potential to come.
Decoding the distribution patterns of the coarse Hossegor sand is a local obsession. However a stroll of the beach between Le Sud and Estagnots shows the relative ease with which organisers have decided to site the contest, again, at Culs Nuls. While La Grav' has been surfed recently there’s no reason to assume it’ll offer contestable conditions on a range of swell and tides, certainly compared to the clear jut of sand straight in front of the contest area. Talking with contest director Alain Riou the real interest is a large spit of sand just to the north of this. A clear cut in the bank runs back towards the contest area and outside this there’s a well defined shallow patch of sand with a-typical length breaking into a deeper water channel between the beach at Guardians and Culs Nuls. Local talk is of a couple of right peaks and a left on recent swells. While it’s been hard for anyone to have a handle on the exact state of the sand through the recent flat spell, it’s pretty clearly a potentially decent setup for handling a bit more juice than usual and delivering fast pitching right-handers in a NW swell, or even split peaks on the Joaquin westerly.