Fanning scored an impressive 9.37 out of a possible 10 to snatch victory in the dying moments of his heat, taking advantage of the ideal three-to-five foot swells at La Graviere.
Fanning's combined wave total of 18.20 marked the highest of the day, outscoring American Brett Simpson and Portugal's Tiago Pires in their heat.
"It was a wild end to that heat," Fanning said.
"Brett surfed great. He pushed me really deep at the end, but I saw the wave had doubled up and had to put the rocket boots on when I stood up. It had a great line and I was stoked to make it out."
Kelly Slater, reigning 10-time world Champion, survived a difficult wave-starved heat in round one winning with a total score of just 10, the second lowest combined score of the day.
"It was a nightmare out there," the 39-year-old American said.
"I wouldn't be surprised if they called it out there. The tide is really high. It was a bummer and not very competitive."
Also scraping through a challenging opening round was current world No.2 Australian Owen Wright who scored 12.60 to win his heat.
Fellow Australian Joel Parkinson meanwhile, suffered a shock elimination at the hands of Moroccan wildcard Ramzi Boukhiam in their round two heat.
South African Jordy Smith posted a win in his return to elite ASP World Title competition after missing two events due to a rib injury sustained during the Billabong Pro Tahiti, while French Polynesian Michel Bourez and American Dane Reynolds also posted round one wins.Australian Josh Kerr will take on Pires first up in their in their round two heat when competition resumes on Thursday (Friday AEDT).