Michel Bourez claimed one of surfing's greatest prizes Monday when he won the Billabong Pipe Masters. It was the fourth career victory the Tahitian has earned in Triple Crown events. And while the 10,000 points he scored there propelled him to a season-ending No. 6 on the Jeep Leaderboard, the win also quietly granted Bourez entry into an exclusive club. By winning at Pipe, he joined Mark Richards, Gary Elkerton and the late, great Andy Irons in a small group of athletes who've won at all three stops on the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing.
It's even more impressive considering that Bourez's four wins have come at distinct stages of his career. He's topped the podium twice at the Hawaiian Pro, winning at Haleiwa in 2008 and again in 2013. Little was known about Bourez in 2008, save for The Spartan monicker he'd been given by fellow Qualifying Series surfers that year for his muscular physique and tireless devotion to training. Bourez was ranked well outside the qualifying positions heading into Hawaii that year, but in dreamy Haleiwa conditions he secured a spot on the elite tour in 2009 thanks to a giant-killing victory run.
He's been a pillar of the Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour ever since. He finished 6th in 2011, and in 2014 he was in contention for a World Title before finishing the year in the top 5. He won back-to-back events in Margaret River and Rio that year, before gravity set in. But he finished the 2014 season on a high, taking out the World Cup of Surfing at Sunset in solid conditions.
The 2015 season, however, was his toughest yet. A poor start to the year was then compounded by a serious neck injury suffered in a horrific wipeout at Teahupo'o. At one stage he contemplated leaving the tour, as the lure of family life and quality waves in Tahiti became stronger than ever. But in true Spartan style, he refocused and worked incessantly to again reach peak form.
That persistence paid off with Sunday's win at the Pipe Masters. "This is the biggest event to win for a surfer and I did it!," he said afterward. "And to have all my friends and loved ones here makes it even more special. It's been a long year, and I'm tired. And if I don't go home soon my wife will kill me."
Bourez and his wife welcomed a new baby this fall, so the Pipe Masters prize money comes at a great time for the father of two. He'll be too busy changing diapers and enjoying home life to be pondering his new place in the pro surfing record books. After all, training will begin soon enough. His goal for next season remains the same; to be the best surfer in the world.