The Open De Surf Region Reunion Red by SFR pres. by Quiksilver unfolded a few weeks ago and there's plenty of reasons to rejoice. Yes it was pretty much a locals-only comp, but the depth of talent on the island is such that it looked a lot like a proper pro event. Here's what you should know about it.
Saint-Leu is a World Class Wave
The event unfolded over three days of competition, in what is not even close to prime season for conditions on Reunion Island and yet the wave was there, breaking beautifully on the lefthand reef. If that is what bad days on Reunion Island look like, sign us up right away!
When it pumps, Saint-Leu rightfully sits near the top of anyone's list of go-to epic world-class lefts in the world. The infamous inside bowl is a treacherous, super shallow barrel section that will challenge even some of the best surfers.
"For me the wave has similarities with Uluwatu, Macaronis or some of the waves in the Maldives but even more fun and rippable," Maxime Huscenot explained. "You can do whatever you want, it's a real skatepark. When the swell hits the reef at the right angle you can get barreled on the whole bowl section. It's pretty crazy, you stand up on a 3 foot wave and it'll double the size when it hits that inside section. The reef is super sharp but you kind of forget it when you surf. I scored it recently with a few of my friends and three or four days of 6 foot surf non-stop, it was absolutely epic!"
Reunion Island Breeds Talents
World No.3 Johanne Defay, multiple-time CT winner Jeremy Flores, longboard World-Title runner-up Alice Lemoigne, QS and CS standout Jorgann Couzinet and freshly CT qualified Maxime Huscenot, these are just a few names everybody knows in the surfing world. What do they have in common? A youth spent honing their skills on the numerous epic waves Reunion Island has to offer.
This small Indian ocean paradise is one of the most prolific grounds for French surfing. Countless pros have emerged from the island, men, women, shortboarders and longboarders have been and continue to dominate at all levels of competition, locally and internationally.
"It's a tropical island and you can surf 365 days of the year," former pro surfer Frederic Robin explained. "There is always a wave breaking somewhere and that's probably the main reason why people get so good there. The wave quality really helps too, you have everything from beginner to expert and long waves where when you're learning you have the opportunity to repeat the maneuvers and really get to work."
"We've always had good boards," Robin added. "The proximity with South Africa allowed our first shops to import great equipment so we were able to improve quickly. Each generation also had and still has lots of great surfers to look up to, which is really important when you grow up. The competitive scene on Reunion has always been very active, with plenty of local events to make the best come through and give them opportunities to travel to France and other places to face different conditions and competitors. The last piece of the puzzle is institutional support, the department and region have helped a lot of athletes financially over the years to train and travel internationally."
Defay, Lemoigne, Poulot, Grenier and Crozon Take Trophies Home
It was the first time Saint-Leu hosted a comp for years and none of the competitors had ever put on a jersey there. But the crown jewel of the island was the perfect fit for a return to competitive surfing in Reunion. Surfers battled in men and women shortboard, women's longboard, and men's bodyboard divisions over three days in good conditions.
Unsurprisingly, the current World No.3 Johanne Defay reigned supreme in her class. She's made a name for herself on the Championship Tour winning events at G-Land, Uluwatu and Fiji, so the tropical lefts of her home spot were no match for her powerful and technical backhand approach.
"I was just so stoked to be out there with all the girls," she reflected. "I really felt safe in the lineup. We have events in Western Australia or J-Bay where the situation is similar and we showed it's possible to compete here too. I absolutely loved it, Saint-Leu is a world class wave, it wasn't as magical as it gets but still super fun. Surfing at home is just so enjoyable."
The 2021 longboard World Title runner-up Alice Lemoigne dominated her class as well, locking in quality time on the nose of her board on the long lefts and navigating the tricky sections with ease.
"It was so nice to compete here after everything we've been through," she said. "It really was a dream-come-true to surf here at Saint-Leu in a competition. I was super happy to see all my childhood friends put on a jersey and rip out there."
Local surfer Mateo Poulot took out the men's shortboard and Laury Grenier the bodyboard division, while QS warrior Mathis Crozon won the Trophée Quiksilver Leu Tropical on the last day.
"That's not a win like any other," Mathis Crozon stated. "It's really emotional to compete here and think of all the people we've lost. Having a QS event there was simply unimaginable until recently but now that's all we can think about, I really hope it happens, I think we all deserve it."
The crowds were blessed with an epic show of barrels, carves and airs, all on display on the incredible left of St Leu and everyone loved competing at such an iconic venue.
"Saint-Leu has started to breath life again since the creation of the water patrol," Gilbert Pouzet, president of the Leu Tropical Surf Team said. "We had to host ceremonies for surfers who passed here and it was great to see people smiling again in the lineup. To see everyone involved here really motivates us to put this beautiful spot on the map again. I really hope it opens the door to more events in the future."
The Tour Needs to Head Back to Reunion
The last pro event held on the island was a European Junior QS back in 2011, but if there's one that really stood out, it's the 2005 Rip Curl Pro Search Reunion Island. It was the first-ever Rip Curl Search event, and what a place to start! Saint-Leu had been absent from the tour almost a decade and it came back in 2005 with the likes of Kelly Slater, Andy Irons, Mick Fanning and more in the hunt for the World Title. The world's best fought out in solid surf throughout and eventual 3X World Champion Fanning came out on top that week.
Now it's no secret that a delegation from the WSL was on the island for the recent event and it's a testament to the work the local community has done over the years to try and bring back professional surfing to their home. The success of the Open De Surf Region Reunion Red by SFR is a great indication of possibilities for the future.
The ideal season for an event at Saint-Leu would be sometime in June, just before Ballito as a lot of competitors would be in the region and it's peak season for waves. In saying that 2023 is just too close to make it work, but both the WSL and the local team are evaluating possibly hosting an event in the future.
Local Efforts to Mitigate the Shark Situation Continue
The last decade or so has been incredibly challenging for Reunion Island, its community, tourism and obviously surfing and all water activities. But a long-haul work has been done by a passionate community of ocean-lovers to identify the issues, understand them and find solutions.
As far as surfing goes, various approaches to secure the lineups have been tried and thankfully to great success as there hasn't been an attack on the island since 2019. For this event in particular, after an assessment of the water clarity and visibility, three jet skis and a semi rigid boat with a total of 12 people were part of the protocols employed. All surfers also had to use an approved shark repellent device.
"I've always been involved with surfing on the island both as a coach and organizer in the past," Christophe Mulquin, project manager at the Centre Sécurité Requin said. "Since 2011, I've been invested in trying to get out of the difficult phase we're in. We continue to look for innovative ways to reduce the risk and hopefully give our surfers a chance to shine again internationally. This event was a first step and a great opportunity to put a smile back on their faces, initiate discussions with the WSL and see a competitive atmosphere at Saint-Leu."
Find out more about this event here.