"It's been a bad year, and getting worse," Bourez told the WSL after an early-round loss in the MEO Vissla Pro Ericeira. "The waves haven't been good. Obviously, the pandemic has made life difficult, Teahupo'o was canned, I've had injuries and I haven't won a heat all year."
After a decade on the Championship Tour that included three event wins and four top 10 finishes, the Tahitian was, suddenly, on the verge of ending his CT career. In 2021 he had failed to make it past Round 3 in any event and had finished as the World No. 28, well below the cutoff. Unlike fellow veteran Jeremy Flores, the man nicknamed The Spartan however wasn't ready to retire.
"The competitive fire still burned, and I felt I had so much more to give," said Bourez. "Plus I didn't want to go out that way, not surfing my best or showing what I can do." So the 35-year-old committed himself to the Challenger Series and a spin in the last chance saloon. That meant leaving his young family behind in Tahiti and hitting the road for three months.
First round losses in the US Open and Ericeira, however, had Bourez' Last Dance style comeback in tatters. Going into the Quik Pro France he was ranked 108 out of the 112 surfers on the Challenger Series.
In each heat in the shifting beachbreaks of France you could sense the confidence and timing of one of surfing's greats returning. Riding a fluro green sprayed Firewire, the spark and power were impossible to ignore. He dispatched World No. 10 Frederico Morais with his power game and out-flared Brazilian young guns Samuel Pupo and Mateus Herdy.
It was vintage Bourez and it took a similarly fired-up Connor O'Leary to eventually beat him in the Final. That result saw Bourez rise 90 places to no. 18 on the Challenger Series and within striking distance of the all-important top 12 cutoff.
"I have come so far from where I was before this event," he said after the Final in France. "I didn't get the injury wildcard for 2022 and I didn't know why, but whatever, I have to go along with it. Now Hawaii and the good waves are coming. It's important to place all my focus on Haleiwa."
Going into Hawaii, you'd be a brave man to bet against him in the final Challenger Series event. Haleiwa is the place where he burst onto the CT after winning a QS event there in 2008. He claimed another victory in 2013, and has been one of Hawaii's best performers, winning the Triple Crown as well becoming just the fourth surfer in history to win at three Hawaiian stops when he won the Pipe Masters 2016.
With real fire in the belly, and his confidence returned, Michel Bourez is now back on the brink of securing his CT status. It would make a remarkable comeback, and totally deserved. After all who doesn't want to see the Spartan dancing on the CT in 2022?
Tune into the Michelob ULTRA Pure Gold Haleiwa Challenger LIVE from the North Shore of Oahu from November 26 - December 7 to see who will make the cut for the 2022 Championship Tour.