Michel Bourez has spent eight years on the Championship Tour, and his experience shows. Year after year, Bourez has held his own against the biggest names in surfing.
Currently at No. 8 on the Jeep Leaderboard, Bourez is enjoying a steady climb after ninth-place finishes in J-Bay, Fiji, and Rio. Now he has home field advantage as the tour heads to Teahupo'o. In this excerpt from an upcoming WSL profile, Bourez explains how growing up in a small Tahitian town shaped not only his surfing but who he has become. Here's a sneak peek:
WSL: The first time you ever stood on a board…how old were you and where were you?
Michel Bourez: The first time I ever stood up on a board, I was maybe eight years old. Back at home in Tahiti. I grew up close to the beach so I ended up jumping in the water. My friend had a board so I started messing with it and surfing.
So you learned how to surf on the inside of a little pass, but Teahupo'o was right around the corner. Where's the middle ground there?
Yeah, Teahupo'o is the most extreme wave of Tahiti for sure. You don't go there at an early age. You just need to build your mentality first. You need to know how to ride the barrels. There's a lot of breaks and passes you can practice at. There's Rights and Lefts at about 4 or 5 foot. I was like 14 the first time I went there. I was more worried about my board than anything else, because if you break that one board, that's it. You're done for a month. That's why I wanted to stay basic. Surf beachbreaks at first and then reefs. When I got to the age where I was ready, I pretty much lived at Teahupo'o.
When did pro surfing become a realistic goal of yours?
I did my first competition in Tahiti when I was 12, so it was really late. We couldn't go to the competitions. My parents were always busy with their jobs. My neighbor is the one that took care of us because he saw the potential. He just did whatever it took to build us up as surfers. He would take us to the competitions. We would all surf together. We built a good relationship. It's still the same now.
When I was 14 or 15, that's when I realized there was something special about it. Just spending that much time in the water is amazing. You just want to improve. You want to be better than your friends. When I traveled to Bali for the World Juniors, I was 14. I did a quarter and I was like, 'I'm no different from all the other kids. I can make it.'
WSL: When you started winning, how did your family react?
At first, my dad thought surfing was just for fun. He didn't think you can get a job as a surfer. It was a Sunday thing you did with your friends. When he realized that I was really into it and I was focusing only on surfing...he was like, 'Okay, now you need to work hard. Now you need to stretch more.' He gave me the opportunity to be more professional about it.
I think it's the base of humanity. Just to be helpful and respectful.
WSL: Several of the guys on tour have said, "If you are ever in a bad spot Michel is the guy that will take care of you -- lift you up."
I think it's the base of humanity, just to be helpful and respectful. You want to be able to travel with people that you really love, that have your back as well. I know the people that I travel with right now, they are always behind me and I do the same for them.
What was the moment you felt like things clicked for you, and this dream was real?
When I ended up winning Haleiwa -- that's when everything went right. I gave myself three years to qualify. The first year I learned how it works. The second year I said I would give it 100 percent to see how it goes. And the third year I can't see why I won't qualify because I was ready.
What's been the hardest thing to deal with during these eight years on tour?
The roughest year I had was the year that Andy [Irons] passed away. That was the first year I was on tour. Getting to know your legend and the people that you've always wanted to be around and surf with. To see that happen…I was with Mick and all the boys over there and it was devastating. Everyone was like, ‘Is this really happening?' After that everyone became a lot closer.
WSL: You're popular in a lot of different places -- America, Brazil, Australia. What's been the key to your personal success?
As long as you stay yourself and try your best. You show the world who you are, where you come from, what you did, everything you've done to get to the World Tour. When people get to know you better, they understand. They see the culture is different and they want to know more about you. It's a good thing. It's hard because you don't want to mess around. People see you as Tahiti. They see me as Tahiti.