When it comes to surf contests, Justine Dupont has just about done it all. From the packed heats of the Qualifying Series to the genteel realm of Longboard terrain, she's been quietly building the CV of a highly skilled waterwoman. But Dupont's focus on big waves is a relatively newer affair. While she's been chasing swells from Hawaii to France for at least half a decade, she's only spent one year of dedicating her winters to full-time training. Last winter, Dupont and her boyfriend, French waterman Fred David, relocated to Nazaré -- Portugal's home for building-size waves.
And Saturday, at the second-ever Maui Women's Pro, those long days in cold water paid off. While Dupont's third-place finish wasn't quite the result of her dreams, earning points wasn't entirely the -- ahem -- point. Instead, the chance to surf an empty lineup at Jaws with just five other women was all about progressing the sport. It was also key to a better performance overall this year in the women's event -- more knowledge of the break meant more confidence in the moment and better performances when it counted most.
After the event, Dupont shared her thoughts about the contest, and the future for women in big wave.
World Surf League: What was your experience like at the contest?
Justine Dupont: I'm really happy, we had really good waves, so I felt more confident, better in my surfing, and I wanted to take more waves than I did last year. I even went left one time, took one on the head. It was a great heat -- I enjoyed it more than last year, and I'm sure I will enjoy way more next year.
It seemed like you and the rest of the invitees were more comfortable at this year's event than last. What changed?
For me, I have spent more time on big-wave surfing this year. I trained at Nazaré before I came, we spent the whole winter in Nazaré, so I'm sure the training there is paying off. Last year it was pretty new for me, so I'm just trying to improve little by little every time, every year. It's just about more experience.
You have also competed in Qualifying Series events and, more recently, the Longboard Tour. Why did you decide to focus on big waves?
Because I love it, and I'm doing it with my boyfriend, sharing this with him. I love the Nazaré crew, and the vibe over there is amazing, everybody is pushing [each other]. I'm really happy about that. So since last winter, I've enjoyed it more and more, and want to improve and get better and better. I even put SUP in my training -- and I qualified for the longboard Championships. There's not a lot of events for big wave, so it's better that I do a bit of everything. I do some just for training, not just for contests. I love to be in the ocean.
Especially for big-wave surfing, it's important to be able to swim [well]. I do some body-surfing sessions with my boyfriend, it made me improve a lot. I'm sure the longboarding is helping me with the big guns. And the training, the physicality, that you get from stand-up, it's technical and so much fun.
How do you support your big-wave career? Do you have sponsors?
It's not easy but I have Red Bull helping me a lot -- in Nazaré, we have a warehouse, a garage [which we share with athletes including Maya Gabeira, Carlos Burlé and Pedro "Scooby" Vianna, among others]. We have everything there. And some more, with French companies Allroad Mobile and Smart Grid Energy, so I can feel that more people are involved. I've also been doing more public speaking. It could be better for sure, but for the moment I'm happy with the love from everybody. And with my boyfriend, we share it, we love it, we are passionate about the ocean. I know that without him, I would not be able to do it.
We met in [French big-wave spot] Belharra a year ago -- we were both there to surf. But we have worked together for one year, really dedicating ourselves to big-wave surfing.
Now that there have been two WSL-sanctioned events for female big-wave surfers, what do you see at the path forward for women in big wave surfing?
There were high expectations last year, and it was a hard day, so it was tricky from the start. But this year it's getting better, and we might have a [Red Bull exhibition] contest at Waimea, and one in Europe, and maybe a few others. And for sure we have one really good thing, which is [the WSL's upcoming event at] Mavericks. Which is so good, because last year we just had Jaws. To only have six girls in the water at Mavericks, for sure it will push the level; and the image of women in big-wave -- because on a normal day, it's really hard to get a wave there. But a contest, it's so good, you really can take the wave that you want, it's great exposure and experience, for sure.
I think the way is long, and we are just at the beginning. And we have the boys showing us the way to go, and they appreciate [what we're doing]. I could see at Jaws, there was a really, really good vibe. They gave me some good advice just before my heat -- a lot of guys, like Twiggy [Grant Baker], and Carlos [Burlé] at Nazaré. A lot of people are giving me so much advice, you can feel that they want you to do better, and go bigger. Little by little.