When we met in Tahiti, Vahine Fierro was happy to be back after more than a month and a half away from home. But above all, the 18 year-old champion, from the island of Huahine, was ecstatic to have brought home with her the junior pro world championship trophy, won on March 8th in Australia, to reward the unfaltering talent and deter-mination, that will surely take her far.
How did you start surfing?
Vahine Fierro : My father, who is from San Diego, took part in surf competitions in the States with stars like Kelly Slater and Rob Machado. But, he got injured and had to stop. He came to Huahine where he met my mother, and quickly taught her to surf. Surfing is a family tradition for me and my little sisters. I learned to swim when I was 18 months, then I started bodyboarding with my dad. I started on a real surfboard when I was around 3 or 4 and had made a lot of progress by 5 or 6. I love the feeling, the sensation of freedom and being able to do express yourself freely on a wave. And, it’s something we share together. I’m very close to my family and part of that is because of surfing.
Where did the idea to take part in competitions come from later?
In fact, I hated competitions and I didn’t take part in any until I was 13 years old. I enjoyed myself so much, that I didn’t see any reason for it. It wasn’t ârt of our lifestyle, we surfed for the pleasure. But, dad watched the competitions online over the internet and he could easily see that, even without comparing myself to the others that I had the required level. So, he pushed me a little bit by telling me : « Why don’t you just try ? It’s a dream come true to be able to make a living by doing what you love and enjoying yourself ! ». So, I then started with the Coca-Cola competitions in Tahiti, then the juniors pro… I got a taste for it.
Where are you with your career today ?
Today I’m semi-professional. I have just earned the title of junior pro world champion, and this year I’m going to be participating actively in the QS (the World Qualifying Series, which is the only means of access to the world of surf elite, the WCT, which includes the 38 best professional male surfers and 17 best women surfers, editor’s note). In the past, I have already won runner up in Portugal during the 2016 world championship. If the QS is open to all, it takes a lot of maturity to get enough points to reach the WCT.
How do you finance all this ?
At the beginning the money came from my parents, and my father made my boards for me, up until last August. However, after a while they told me that real life didn’t work like that, that I’d have to work for what I wanted. That’s when I started making and selling chocolate pies, which, after two years, earned me enough money for a plane ticket ! And it’s true it motivates you: when you travel it’s very expensive, when you come from far away you really don’t want to lose in the first round! Later, I started to be sponsored by Air Tahiti Nui and Dakine, a brand of surf accessories. Even more importantly I was spotted by the Tahitian Raimana Van Bastolaer. He’s an influential figure in the world of international surf, who recommended me to team Roxy, a surf brand that has now become my main sponsor. In February I signed a 3-year contract with Jeep. Finally, I am also supported by the commune of Huahine, within their means. They are very proud of their young athletes !
And where are you with your studies?
In June 2017, I got my Economy and Social bac (high school diploma) from Papara High School in Tahiti. I was majoring in surf sport studies, I got a lot of support from my teachers because I did nevertheless miss a lot of classes. But I was feeling pretty fed up with my education. Not everybody is lucky enough to get another option offered to them, and I’ve been paid a salary since I was 16, so I decided to take a year out. But during competitions, there actually is a lot of waiting around, time that I could use to study; that’s why, in September, I am going to restart an online English degree to become a teacher.
In your opinion, what is it that makes the difference between you and the other surfers on the world tour ?
The commentators often say that I’m fluid, powerful, with a nice style. In fact, if I get the right wave, I’m sure to get a good score and pass. Choosing the right waves is really important, and the Roxy coach has taught me some great techniques for executing my series and getting a strong confident start. It’s also important to know how to continue to keep having fun during the competitions. And to stay well balanced, you must know how to keep yourself surrounded by a strong support team; and I always am.
What does surfing mean to you ?
Surfing, it’s my life. I surf all the time, I always want to. It’s like a love story. In the morning when my sisters are at school and my parents are at work, I train seriously on my sets, then in the afternoon, it’s time for fun with my sisters. It’s very important to me to be able to maintain both aspects of it, in that way.
What are your favorite « spots », here and elsewhere ?
My favorite spots are, Huahine, of course, but I won’t say where, because they’re hidden spots ! (Laughing). Otherwise, I really like Tahiti iti, Teahupoo and Teavaiti. Internationally, I’ve fallen for a spot in Morocco that’s called La Mouette. I discovered it during a family holiday and I loved it, the country as much as the culture and the waves.
Aren’t you ever scared ?
I’m always afraid ! When it’s big. I’m particularly scared of Teahupoo because it’s an extremely dangerous break. But I always try to push myself. That said, I have never gone over 4 meters ; my biggest wave was 3.5 meters, that was in Huahine and I was too happy to have been able to ride it !
What are your next challenges ?
I’m giving myself two or three years to be able to qualify for the CT. In fact, in surfing, you lose more often then you win …So, this year my big challenge is to learn to lose and accept defeat, even though I hate it. But, I would also like to perform consistently, ranking in a quarter of the competitions and learning not to repeat the same errors, because at this level all the competitors are really strong. And I want to keep enjoying what I’m doing, to never lose the pleasure.”
Do you have any idols among the professional surfers ?
Michel Bourez, who I adore, but also Jérémy Flores… I was with them in Australia, it was great ! Then from the ladies Stephanie Gilmore, an Australian who has been world champion six times. She is part of team Roxy, and when they came to my island with the team, for a photoshoot in 2015, it was one of the best days of my life.
What are your biggest dreams as a young woman of 18 years old, going beyond the world of surfing ?
My dreams all revolve around surfing (laughing) ! But my main goal is always to be happy in life. Nobody has a life without problems and it’s easy to let it get away with you. Me, I don’t ever want to lose sight of happiness. I also want to stay humble and kind to others. I always try to support those close to me, my family and even strangers who need help. I want to stay that way.
Finally, where do you see yourself in 10 years time ?
If I’m on the Tour, I will be travelling all the time. And, I will take my mother along with me, because she’ll be retired by then. In fact, we’ll all be travelling, because my sisters will also be competing in the QS ! And if that doesn’t happen, then I’ll be an English teacher in Huahine, and surf every day at home. Because, even if I have visited lots of other different places, Huahine is my personal paradise. There are no traffic jams, not many people, we’re completely connected to nature and I don’t think that is going to change. What’s more we live in the mountains where I often go hiking and we have a huge vegetable garden… everything to keep me happy and busy. The island has a fatal attraction !
Interviewed by Virginie Gillet