Born in Marseille, schooled in Bayonne and now living in Biarritz, a posh beach town on France's southwest coast, brothers Antoine and Edouard Delpero are an unlikely pair of surf stars. To the uninitiated, they're two charming guys with great accents and a lot of talent -- indeed, as they sipped beachside espressos on a recent morning, the bonjours flowed as passers-by said hello. But to fellow surfers, they're a double-threat that routinely take the top spots in contests region-wide.
Yet the Delperos' path to pro surfing was far from pre-ordained. Marseille, a bustling port town on France's southern coast, is known more for its role in immigration than its place in the pantheon of surf towns. (This year, it also became the central character in the eponymous Netflix show starring Gerard Depardieu. Surfing was not featured.) Plus, unlike many families that breed young pros, longboarding was not part of the Delpero DNA. Both parents work in medicine, and neither surfed when the boys were small.
Before they paddled out for the Boardmasters, Cornwall contest this week, Edouard and Antoine sat down to talk shop, everything from their new surf school to family dynamics and why classic longboarding has had a resurgence.
Outside of December, when you're in China, what are your day-to-day lives like?
A: Edouard was traveling, and working on his studies. I was traveling too, and working on my brand, [Bonz], with one of my friends. It takes time.
And now we have this new thing, this surf school, that the mayor of Biarritz gave us the right to do some lessons. There are a lot of rules here. There are not enough places for everyone, and already a lot of surf schools. The spot is pretty saturated. We had to write a whole file with plenty of things to explain what we want to do.
Sometimes my dad pushed me too much. So I thought maybe I just wanted to skateboard and hang around with my friends. But Edouard always knew what he wanted to do.
Do you two surf together a lot?
A: Yeah, but Edouard's way more motivated than me. And he always has been. Even for coming here and doing the [French athletes' school]. He was motivated by himself, and I was motivated by my father. So that was a little different.
How did that work with your dad? Was he encouraging?
A: Yes, but sometimes he pushed me too much. So I thought maybe I just wanted to skateboard and hang around in the streets with my friends, when I was a kid, I was 14. But Edouard always knew what he wanted to do, and always knew he wanted to come here and surf.
Now that you are professionals, what does your dad say?
A: He's very proud. He's always on Facebook, sharing the stuff we post. Sometimes he talks a little too much about his sons, but it's cool. He's still surfing and comes here often. My parents are still living in Marseille. My father is a surgeon, he is doing all the transplantations, it is a very hard job. He is really passionate about it.
Antoine, you were doing grom comps before you decided to make a career out of surfing. At what point did it become more serious?
Antoine: I remember we had the Biarritz Surf Festival here, and that was probably the last one I did thinking that it was a fun game, probably at the age of 20. It was probably because I was used to winning. And the festival had plenty of other guys coming from everywhere. After, I had a couple of bad results and it made me feel weird and thinking I wanted to keep on going in the contest. Too much thinking, probably.
I stopped my studies to focus on my career, but lost my sponsor at that time. They were supportive, but unfortunately the brand died. That was two hard years.
And for you, Edouard, you were still in Marseille?
E: I was still in Marseille, until Antoine was about 19. For me, it was different than him because I wanted to come here and start surfing. During the week I was staying at school and on the weekends with Antoine.
As soon as I finished school, I tried to keep up with my studies too. I kept going for three years and I began performing in shortboard and longboard. I stopped my studies to focus on my career, but lost my sponsor at that time. That was two hard years. They were supportive, but unfortunately the brand died.
Did you ever reconsider your career choice during that time?
E: Yes, yes, for sure. We still have hard time making a living from longboarding. I was without a sponsor and really thinking about what I was doing. So I decided to keep going in my studies [at the Grenoble School of Management], to leave the door open for a new possibility [and keep surfing]. And that worked. In 2012 I found a new sponsor.
I think the popularity of shortboarding is a media thing. And a brand thing, too. Because it was only brands at the time that pushed surfing.
For a time, there was surge in the evolution of surfboard design and a whole generation dedicated to shortboard progression. What drew you to longboarding, which is relatively a much smaller professional arena?
A: Really, I just think that it's a media thing. And a brand thing, too. Because it was only brands at the time that pushed surfing. They wanted to sell shortboards and not longboards anymore.
E: At the time, Antoine was with Oxbow, and Oxbow decided to promote longboarders as much as possible.
A: They were pretty much the only big sponsor for the Longboard Tour. They used to have maybe four events in a year, which was good. So I think it's a promotion problem.
Why is that? If you look across the street [at Biarritz's Plage de la Côte des Basques] at the dozens of people in the water, longboarding is clearly more accessible.
A: For me, it has always been a misunderstanding in that sense. There are plenty of people surfing with longboards because at first it's easier, you can catch more waves. It's definitely not more easy than shortboarding at the higher levels, but it can interest a lot of people.
Back in the day there were guys like Bonga Perkins at huge Pipeline or Backdoor, doing huge barrels. Longboarding can be really impressive in big waves. It's not just a small-wave thing.
In California, at least, it seems there's been an embrace of longboarding among the hipster set. What do you the impetus might have been?
A: I think we went really far [in one direction], so now maybe it's time to go the other way.
E: I think they've found their niche, that image, and stick to it. They've found opportunity in it. There have been people surfing like that forever, but there is a phenomenon, a mode, because of the brands now. You see some people surfing like that, just for the style.
A: A fashion thing.
E: Fashion, exactly. This is how business works -- the image of how longboarding is given, sticking to the classic look, is part of it. But it's not only this. It has to be holistic. It's not that I don't agree, but that the image [should be broader].
A: Especially when you look back in the day [the generation just before ours] there were guys like Bonga Perkins, Colin McPhillips, Duane DeSoto, at huge Pipeline or Backdoor, doing huge barrels. Longboarding can be really impressive in big waves. Unfortunately, most of the contests we have are in small waves, but we should have a contest somewhere where the waves are more impressive and we can show that longboarding is not just a small-wave thing.