You only have to watch Johanne Defay doing her pre-heat warm-up routine to know how serious she is about her surfing. Of all the surfers on the Championship Tour (CT), be it men or women, perhaps only Mick Fanning can rival her warm-up for intensity or technicality. The same can be said for her training regime. Few elite surfers can match her dedication and commitment.
While the Reunion Island surfer is known for her affable and positive personality, behind the ever-present 1000-watt smile lies a burning desire to improve herself and her surfing. That she has been successful in that endeavor is reflected in career rankings. Now in her fourth year on the Championship Tour (CT), her trajectory has been consistently upward. She finished her first two years as World No. 8, before cracking the top five in 2016. Now after her runner-up finish at the Oi Rio Women's Pro, she is currently rated as World No. 4. Given her form she is now the best-placed surfer to keep in touch with the leading pack of Gilmore, Wright and Fitzgibbons.
The Outerknown Fiji Women's Pro comes at a perfect time for the 23-year-old. Growing up surfing the reefbreaks of Reunion Island, Cloudbreak is the location that best plays to her strengths. It is a wave that rewards commitment and physical fitness. Plus, Defay's backhand -- which comes into play at the tropical lefthander -- has always been her most dangerous weapon. It was here last year that she claimed her second-ever CT win. At the time that victory was considered an upset. Twelve months later, a successful defense shouldn't surprise anyone.
Along with the natural fit of the wave and her previous success here, Defay is also in as good a mental place as she has been at any stage in her career. With a boyfriend who shares her love of surfing and fitness, and a new sponsor that has helped alleviate the financial stresses of traveling and competing, all the elements of the Defay jigsaw puzzle are falling into place.
Ever since Defay broke onto the CT in 2014, she has made it no secret that her ultimate goal is to be a World Champion. Each warm-up, every freesurf and every training session has been geared to that prize. It's taken time, sure, but in 2017 the dividends of all that hard work are paying off. In the next week she could make a significant step to get closer to her dream. No one would have worked harder for it.