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Surfing: The unstoppable rise of Michel Bourez

Tahitian surfer Michel Bourez in action on the legendary Teahupo’o wave at Tahiti’s peninsula. - © Ben ThouardTahitian surfer Michel Bourez in action on the legendary Teahupo’o wave at Tahiti’s peninsula. - © Ben ThouardTahitian surfer Michel Bourez in action on the legendary Teahupo’o wave at Tahiti’s peninsula. - © Ben ThouardTahitian surfer Michel Bourez in action on the legendary Teahupo’o wave at Tahiti’s peninsula. - © Ben ThouardFree surfing on a magnificent wave in the Tuamotu atolls. - © Ben ThouardFree surfing on a magnificent wave in the Tuamotu atolls. - © Ben ThouardTahitian surfer Michel Bourez in action on the legendary Teahupo’o wave at Tahiti’s peninsula. - © Ben ThouardFree surfing on a magnificent wave in the Tuamotu atolls. - © Ben ThouardThe Tahitian champion has a strong attachment to his native islands. - © Ben ThouardMichel Bourez surfing in the Billabong Pro Tahiti competition at Teahupo’o - © Ben ThouardMichel Bourez surfing in the Billabong Pro Tahiti competition at Teahupo’o - © Ben Thouard
Surfing: The unstoppable rise of Michel Bourez
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With his gladiator physique and powerful style, Tahitian Michel Bourez has reached the highest ranks of competitive surfing. This surfing star nicknamed “The Spartan” wants to beat his 2014 fifth-place world ranking. Here is a portrait of this son from our islands turned international star. This athlete can be seen in action during the famous Billabong Pro Tahiti in Teahupo’o August 14-15 and he is more motivated than ever to compete in front of his Tahitian fans.

Within three years and a string of successes, Michel Bourez has incontestably become one of the best-known surfers of his generation. Thanks to Bourez, Tahiti and all of French Polynesia have been in the global spotlight of the constantly evolving sport of surfing. His contenders on the professional circuit have nicknamed him “The Spartan,” in reference to the men who had the reputation as the most powerful warriors in Ancient Greece.

Spartans were trained to fight at a very young age. They were courageous in face of adversity and ferocious in combat. As a true modern-day warrior, Michel Bourez tours the best surfing spots on the planet to confront the most beautiful waves and prove himself on the WCT battlefield a.k.a. the professional World Championship Tour. This is a dream come true for a young surfer who had to battle it out for three years on the WQS (World Qualifying Series) before joining the elite world surfers on the famous WCT. Tahitian surfing legend Raimana Van Bastolaer, who was also pioneer of the famous Teahupo’o wave, observes, “Surfing consumes all his passion. His goal is to become the first world surfing champion from Tahiti.”

Swift Rise to the Top

The name Michel Bourez first appeared on the international scene in 2006 when he became the ASP Europe Champion (Association of Surfing Professionals). A year later, he received a Wild Card invitation to the Quiksilver Pro France, a stop on the professional world championships held in Hossegor on the Landes coast in France. There, he had his first success through beating world champion and surfing legend, Kelly Slater. A year later in 2008, he was chosen to compete in the Red Bull Rising competition and he won the 6-Star Reef Hawaiian Pro WQS in Hawaii on the Haleiwa wave.

Then in 2009, Bourez entered the prestigious WCT and made a name for himself among the best pros after joining the international Nike and Red Bull teams. He finished his first year of initiation into the professional touring circuit in 21st place out of 32 surfers. The next year, he placed 11th, and in 2011, he advanced to 6th place.

 

However, 2014 made the biggest mark. As soon as Bourez confronted the second stage of the tour in Australia on the powerful Margaret River wave, he climbed to the top step of the podium. His surfing style matched the Margaret River wave in speed and energy. He could not contain his joy on the podium. His first words were for his family and for Tahiti! After this first victory on the professional tour, the international press finally discovered this Tahitian surfer’s talent, physique and warrior mentality. He loves to battle the best! However, Bourez remains humble and stays grounded. He knows there is a lot of time left on this year’s tour and there are still more competitions left to do. He confirmed his rise to fame through winning the 4th stage of the 2014 tour in Brazil. This time, he truly entered the race for the title of world champion!

When the press asks if he is already thinking about winning the ultimate title, he invariably answers that his strategy is to surf each competition without pressure and to win his series one event at a time in order to go the furthest possible each time. The last event in 2014 took place in Hawaii and Bourez had a fabulous finish through winning the Van’s World Cup on the famous Sunset wave.

All throughout the winning year of 2014, former Franco-Brazilian professional surfer and Ju-Jitsu expert Yannick Beven was at Bourez’ sides as his coach. Beven succeeded in making Bourez stronger, both physically and mentally. It is obvious this pair works well together. It was in 2014 that through Beven, Bourez learned how to win. More importantly, he gained a taste for victory. Beven is as determined as his protégé. He states, “I esteem Bourez to be an extraordinary athlete, a modern-day warrior. He is very human and strongly insists on representing his island of Tahiti. He never backs down in front of a challenge. I am so proud to be his coach and prepare him for his next battles. As the saying goes, ’If you want peace, prepare for war!’”

Bourez finished this epic season in 5th place, a first for a Tahitian surfer, with two victories and a semi-final in Fiji. All throughout 2014, Bourez represented Tahiti on the highest step of several different podiums. He is the best ambassador that French Polynesia has ever had on the international circuit; especially since the world surfing championships are widely broadcast and are gaining more followers. Professional surfers have become stars like Kelly Slater. 

Michel Bourez and Tahiti are as one…

Between competitions, Bourez goes home to his wife, son, family and friends. He reconnects with the Polynesian way of life and traditions. He grew up on the waves of the archipelago and his love for the ocean is perpetually anchored in his family heritage. As soon as swells are on the forecast, his priorities return to surfing. Born on the island of Rurutu in the Austral Islands, 500km (311mi) south of Tahiti, Bourez grew up in Tahiti where his father was a math teacher in the district of Mataiea. He father recalls, “He started playing soccer like all the boys his age. However, once he discovered surfing when he was about eight years old, it was love at first sight. He loves nature; he loves to be in the ocean. It is his favorite playground.”

Bourez entered his first competitions when he was thirteen, and the years following, he won local championships in Tahiti. Event after event, his dedicated his life to surfing. He dreamed about becoming a professional surfer. During the first years of competing, surfboard shaper Dave Kelly and big wave Tahitian surfer Raimana Van Bastolaer were his support system. Bourez says about his friend Raimana, “I know I can call him whenever I want. He has nothing to gain in all of this. He just holds his heart in his hand,”

Following Vetea David in the 90s, Bourez is the second Tahitian surfer to make an international career in professional surfing. It is true that Tahiti has perfect waves, that the water is warm and that life is calm…this is certainly one of the main reasons Tahitian surfers rarely venture out onto the international circuit. Bourez explains, “When I was younger, I wanted to be an elite athlete, to be successful in sports. I had a desire to win!”

Today, Bourez is Tahiti’s most famous athlete. He has paved the way for the younger generations of Tahitian surfers who dream of following in his professional footsteps.

His notoriety in Tahiti is so intense that he avoids the streets of Papeete in case he causes a traffic jam or is stopped by too many passersby hoping to show their support.   

 

Rendez-vous at the Billabong Pro Tahiti !

It was halfway through the World Championship circuit. Bourez was at home on the Teahupo’o wave during the 2014 Billabong Pro Tahiti when he ranked 2nd in the race for the title. He was ahead of no other than the King, Kelly Slater, eleven times world champion and Mick Fanning, three times world champion. This was Tahiti’s big event! Bourez knows the Teahupo’o wave well, yet he refused to buy into the role of favorite that the media was trying to sensationalize. In an interview, he declared that despite his familiarity with the wave, he did not feel as if he had an advantage because the level of the WCT surfers was such that anyone could win.

By this time, Brazilian surfer Gabriel Medina was already ahead in the championship. Kelly Slater remained one of the favorites since he had already won at Teahupo’o several times and knew the world-famous wave perfectly. Most of Tahiti had traveled to end of the road on the peninsula in order to support its champion. Unfortunately, Bourez lost in the 5th round against Australian surfer Bede Durbrige. Finally, Brazilian Gabriel Medina took the title for these exceptional waves. Images from the competition went viral across the planet and Medina was crowned 2014 world surfing champion.

This year, we can rest assured that Michel Bourez will get his revenge in Teahupo’o, which is not only a major stop on the ASP circuit, but one of the most celebrated. This is an event he wants to win in front of his fans. The ASP circuit took up again in March 2015 on the Australian Gold Coast. The start of the season came with mixed results for Michel Bourez. Then in May, he was injured during a “free surf” session (surfing outside the competition) on Teahupo’o, a wave true to its reputation that leaves absolutely no margin for error. Taken out of the competition for several weeks, Bourez will make his great comeback onto the circuit during the Billabong Pro Tahiti. The Spartan will pick up his board and his battle. He is not one to give up.

 

Affif Bellakdar

Rankings:

2014: 5th place, ASP World Tour 2014

2013: 12th

2012: 15th

2011: 6th

2010: 11th

2009: 21st on the ASP World Tour 2009; first year on the ASP World Tour

2008: Qualifier for the ASP World Tour

2006: ASP Europe Champion

Surfing:  The unstoppable rise of Michel Bourez
Surfing: The unstoppable rise of Michel Bourez
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With his gladiator physique and powerful style, Tahitian Michel Bourez has reached the highest ranks of competitive surfing. This surfing star nicknamed “The Spartan” wants to beat his 2014 fifth-place world ranking. Here is a portrait of this son from our islands turned international star. This athlete can be seen in action during the famous Billabong Pro Tahiti in Teahupo’o August 14-15 and he is more motivated than ever to compete in front of his Tahitian fans.
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