Let's open this story by noting that Johanne Defay earned the respect of her CT peers well before today. Since arriving on the elite tour stage in 2014 her explosive approach made her a leading purveyor of a progressive surfing agenda. Last summer, when she clinched her first CT victory at the US Open, her authority in the women's ranks rocketed.
But a win in 2-foot slop, no matter how prestigious, doesn't exactly travel. Sure it made her a familiar face in surfing's inner circles, but extent of her influence was still invisible to the outside world. Behind the scenes Defay's surfing has been pushing the entire women's side of the ledger to adopt a more ambitious approach. And as anyone paying attention will tell you, it's been working.
But her cover was blown Tuesday.
By taking center stage in a Final against three-time World Champion Carissa Moore at the Fiji Women's Pro, the progressive performer from Reunion Island took a giant leap out of the shadows, and straight into the limelight of the World Title race.
She did so in stunning form at solid 6-to-8-foot Cloudbreak, nabbing the biggest victory of her career from the clutches of Carissa, who'd been dominating all weekend.
But Defay spent most of the event as silent assassin… While the surfing world was fixating on the miracle of Bethany Hamilton and marveling at Carissa's incredible cave dwelling, Johanne's icy quarterfinal elimination of World No. 1 Courtney Conlogue fell under the radar. That's how she rolls, though, dutifully doing the dirty work of others, and keeping the title race close.
But when Defay reached the semifinals there was no denying she'd have to cross the threshold. The prospect of surfing against Bethany Hamilton, the world's most famous surfer, in dreamlike Fijian surf would be fatal to her covert status. Her only option was to step forward into the spotlight.
With such an opportunity finally in front of her, Defay embraced her black-hat role one more time and handed Hamilton a respectful demise. While her assault on Courtney was vicious, this one was all power and grace, and her ninja behavior did wonders in converting thousands of fans. She was the good villain now...the kind we root for.
Of course, the specter of Carissa at Cloudbreak in the final was daunting. After what Moore had done to her fellow competitors (let alone the lineup) on Tuesday, it seemed Defay was heading for doom.
But Johanne's entire surfing ethos was forged in a lefthand reef. She's from Reunion Island, one of the most remote spots on earth, and home to Saint-Leu, an absolute perfect left. It's a perfect training ground for Fiji. Defay has ripped more than a million lips apart out there during more than 10,000 hours of carving. And when the Final got underway she was transported right back to her home break.
Defay drew first blood with some powerful sweeps across the face, and Carissa never really answered. Johanne didn't let up, and she was surfing with a swagger. Moore, meanwhile, sat there rather stunned. Johanne Defay took the win by leading end-to-end in the Final. Her victory vaulted her to the No. 4 spot on the Jeep Leaderboard, and into the next realm of world title contender.