- WSL / Damien Poullenot
- WSL / Damien Poullenot

Is it possible to finish ranked No. 6 overall on the WSL Championship Tour, yet still fly under the radar from intense media scrutiny? As counterintuitive as that may sound in this digital age of tweetstorms and live streams, it's a fair summation of the 2016 season for Tahiti's Michel Bourez. He's one of the WSL's most well-rounded surfers, and also one of its strongest: He earned his nickname, The Spartan, for his chiseled physique.

Michel Bourez (PYF) winner of the Billabong Pipe Masters 2016 Michel Bourez enjoys the moment at his Pipe Masters victory. - WSL / Poullenot/Aquashot

So what was Bourez's secret formula? Consistency, for the most part. Heading into the Hawaiian leg Hawaiian leg, on Oahu's North Shore, his best result was a 5th place finish at Bells back in April '16. A string of five 9th-place results, however (including three in a row through the Oi Rio Pro, Fiji Pro and J-Bay Open), kept him in the hunt for a Top 10 finish.

Michel Bourez winning Heat 2 of Round Five of the Billabong Pipe Masters at Pipeine, Oahu, Hawaii. Bourez has become one of the best frontside tuberiders on Tour. Conditions weren't huge, but there were some deep barrels on Finals day at the Billabong Pipe Masters. - WSL / Damien Poullenot

And yet, Bourez waited with the patience of a green tree viper to make his final strike -- a deathblow in the form of his 2016 Billabong Pipe Masters victory. "This is the biggest event to win for a surfer and I did it!" he said afterward, clearly over the moon about his big win. "I'm really honored to be a part of the small crew of people who have won it. It's the highlight of my career for sure.

"To tell you the truth, I never dreamed of winning the Pipe Masters. It's weird because when I woke up that morning I felt the same way I felt the morning I won the World Cup event at Sunset Beach two years ago. I was really tired and had the worst night's sleep. That's when I told myself, ‘Ok, I'm gonna win this thing today no matter what!'"

Michel Bourez: Pipe Master
Michel Bourez takes the Pipe Masters title in impeccable conditions at Backdoor.

A Top 10 finish is his perennial pre-season goal, but after a disappointing 25th at the Quiksilver Pro France in early October, his ranking fell to No. 14. Another 9th at the MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal two weeks later did little to help his situation, pushing him just one spot up the rankings, to No. 13. Heading into the season's dramatic final event, the Top 10 was looking more and more like, well, a pipe dream.

And yet, Bourez waited with the patience of a green tree viper to make his final strike -- a deathblow in the form of his 2016 Billabong Pipe Masters victory.

"I had to make the Semifinal to reach my main goal for the year, which was to make the Top 10 in the rankings," Bourez said. "So I had to beat [newly crowned 2016 WSL World Champion] John John Florence at his home break. But I wasn't shaking at all! I was ready for anything."

Bourez Defeats JJF
Michel Bourez blows up in the Quarterfinals to end Florence's Billabong Pipe Masters campaign.

The classy Tahitian's hardly a stranger to the Top 10, having finished no lower than No. 6 in three of the past four WSL seasons. The one anomaly was 2015, when he slipped to No. 21, largely due to a horrific wipeout at Teahupo'o, which forced him to sit out for six weeks. The injury included a broken vertebra, a broken hand and three broken fingers.

Michel Bourez placed second in Heat 7 of Round One at the Billabong Pro Tahiti. Stalling for the end-bowl section at the Tahiti Pro. - WSL / Kelly Cestari

"One of the worst wipeouts I've ever had at Teahupo'o," Bourez posted on Instagram afterward, from a hospital bed. "Thanks to everyone out there today that helped me out, I'm about to get surgery now, that drop was worth it though!"

My worst moment of 2016 was when I lost at Teahupo'o in Round Two against Keanu [Asing]. I felt like I will never do well at home.

"After my bad wipeout at Teahupo'o in May 2015, it took me seven months to fully recover from it," he told the WSL. "At the beginning of 2016, my goals were to go back in the Top 10. I wanted to make sure that I was capable of getting even better than before the injury. So my mind was set to succeed in 2016."

5th Place at Bells
Michel Bourez battles back with a big score in the Quarterfinals, but falls just short of the one he needs.

Unfortunately, a big at Teahupo'o, Bourez's home break, continues to elude him, a fact not lost on the big Tahitian. "My worst moment of 2016 was when I lost at Teahupo'o in Round Two against Keanu [Asing]," he said. "I felt like I will never do well at home. It's probably because I expect too much from myself. I was, once again, devastated from this loss."

Although he endeavors to do better on his home turf, it's a mental hurdle he hopes to overcome in 2017. "The event at Teahupo'o is like the beginning of the second half of the season, it's like a second start in the year... That's why I always want do well there."

Michel Bourez winning Semifinal Heat 1 of the Billabong Pipe Masters at Pipeine, Oahu, Hawaii. Finishing with a flurry at Backdoor. - WSL / Damien Poullenot

His win at the Pipe Masters also completed a Hawaiian Triple Crown grand-slam (he won contest at Haleiwa in 2008 and 2013, and the World Cup at Sunset Beach in 2014), putting him in rare company. Only three other surfers have won all three of the season-ending contests in Hawaii: Andy Irons and Mark Richards -- both World Champions several times over -- and Gary "Kong" Elkerton, a two-time Triple Crown champ.

"I'm super honored to be a part of a group of just a few surfers that have won all three events of the Triple Crown in Hawaii," he said. "Hawaii is a place where I feel good, the place just feels right to me. Hawaii and Tahiti share the same culture and our ancestors both come from an island called Ra'iatea [the historical birthplace of Polynesian culture]."

Michel Bourez winning Heat 5 of Round Three. Fins-free snap at the J-Bay Open. - WSL / Kelly Cestari

"I just love the power of the ocean in Hawaii, it fits perfectly with my surfing," he continued, alluding to his powerful approach. "You have to prove yourself when the surf is big and show yourself and the world what you are capable of outside your comfort zone. I always want to do well in Hawaii. Now my next mission will be to win the Triple Crown!"

Michel Bourez freesurfing. Bells Beach free surf. - WSL / Ed Sloane

At 32, married with two young children, Bourez is now a seasoned vet on Tour looking to cement his legacy. "Winning the World Title has always been in the back of my mind for the past three years. There are a bunch of guys that can win an event, but to be good at every event, only a few can do that. My goal is to be a part of that small group of people who can win everywhere!"

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