France's Johanne Defay is having a career year on the Championship Tour.
Over the course of the four-stop Australian leg Defay walked away with three Quarterfinal appearances and a runner-up finish at the Rip Curl Rottnest Search presented by Corona. Given her penchant for huge, powerful finishing moves and ability to go with the flow when on the road, she's hands down one of the most competitive women on Tour right now.
Defay, currently tied for fifth on the WSL Leaderboard, bagged year-end top-five finishes in both 2018 and 2016, but this year, if she can maintain her position throughout the back half of the season, she'll have a legit shot at winning her first World Title at the Rip Curl WSL Finals at Lower Trestles this September.
"I've had a strong start to the year, so I'm feeling like if I keep the confidence and momentum I have now, I can have my best finish to the year and be inside the top five," Defay said after Rottnest.
Defay has every reason to be brimming with confidence at the moment. Her performances in Australia were solid throughout. In Newcastle she lost to ratings leader and good friend Carissa Moore, who went on to win the event. In Narrabeen she got tripped up by an in-form Caroline Marks. And in Margaret River, she finished her Quarterfinal heat tied with Bronte Macaulay, but ultimately lost the heat after a count back. Her run was capped off by a remarkable performance at Rottnest, where she was finally halted by Sally Fitzgibbons in the Final.
"Something that I have learned to appreciate whilst being on Tour is discovering new places, and coming to Rottnest was like that for everyone," explained Defay after the Final. "It was also a level playing field, which is rare for us on Tour and made it such an interesting event."
But Defay's roll actually started well before the CT season kicked off in Hawaii last December. During the 2020 pandemic she was virtually unstoppable in the specialty Euro Cup Of Surfing, sweeping the series with wins in Anglet and Ericeira.
Defay has to be feeling really good about the upcoming Jeep Surf Ranch Pro presented by Adobe, a venue where she finished runner-up in 2019 and put in what was one of the most jaw-dropping performances of the event.
She opened her campaign in Lemoore with a ride that many considered could have been the first perfect 10 at the Ranch. Taking off on the right-hander, she laid down a couple turns, faded into the first barrel section, and disappeared for a full six seconds (the barrel itself was about nine seconds).
"This wave is all about the rhythm, and when you have two chances, you never know what can happen, so I'm really happy," Defay said after the ride.
Previously, Defay finished fifth at the Surf Ranch Pro in 2018. She's also notched Tour victories in heavy, barreling waves at both Uluwatu and Fiji, proving her backhand is just as lethal as her forehand.
"After watching her on Tour and traveling with her, Johanne's an incredible backhand surfer," Moore told the WSL earlier this season. "She's a really strong surfer, and she charges backhand."
Defay's first full-time season on Tour was back in 2014, where she immediately made her presence felt. She tallied solid results in Fiji, France, Maui, and perhaps most importantly, California, where she finished third at the Swatch Women's Pro Trestles. For the effort she was awarded Rookie Of The Year honors.
"I make so many sacrifices for surfing and for my career. It is already enough for me," Defay explained to the WSL. "I think surfing and competition has really helped me to be confident in myself."
Of course, that was before she entered into the World Title conversation. Over the next several months she has the opportunity to become France's first surfing World Champion, as well as become the first female to win a gold medal in the Olympics for surfing.
The stakes couldn't be higher, but with her next-level confidence and the power of a positive mindset, as she's proved to herself time and again, anything is possible if you just keep chasing the dream.