Raised in the Indian Ocean reefbreak juice of Reunion Island, Johanne was one of few Top 17 women whose stock rose in Fiji this year. Photo: Joli

Interview by Archi

Women’s WCT rookie Johanne Defay recently posted a career-best 3rd at the SWATCH WOMEN’s PRO TRESTLES, proving her ‘high-performance’ game can mix it as well as her well-touted reef/power credentials. We caught up with her for some insight into tour life… and not being a model.

SE: With 2014 seeing a big increase in prize money and Fiji and Maui back on tour, you chose a good moment to jump on the Women’s WCT. Life’s pretty good?
Johanne Defay: I’ve been really lucky. So far in the time I’ve been on tour, I’ve felt like life has changed in a massive way, but also very little, at the same time. In terms of the experiences, everything’s multiplied by a thousand. Surfing waves like Cloudbreak going off, being amongst the top girls, surfing in front of what feels like the whole world watching, that’s massive. But then step out of that bubble and you go home between events and do regular day to day stuff and you realize, the tour and pro surfing is really a small world, just one tiny part of a very big picture.

You’re currently 10th in the ratings. Do you feel like the 10th best female surfer on the planet?
JD: Not when I’m walking down the street anyway haha. It seems strange to think of things of those terms, I’ve not given much thought to my ranking. I just want to give a good account of myself and surf to my capability, now that I’ve been given this chance.

Have you found your surfing matches up to the level needed on tour? Up to scratch or found wanting?
JD: Not found wanting in any specific area as such. It’s more a question of little tweaks, details. All the girls surf well. For me, I’ve felt better surfing waves like Bells and Fiji, and that’s kind of apparent in my results at those two spots. Fiji in particular, because I felt like I surfed a legit world class wave in proper surf, and I held my own.

Fiji seemed to cause some of the other women problems…
True, but you need to take it in context, it’s a hard place to surf and not many of the girls had any experience of the wave beforehand. Cloudbreak is a heavy spot too, it’s intimidating. I just think it’ll take a bit of time for everyone to get used to surfing there, that’s all. I just hope I get the chance to go back next year and surf the event again.

Two years ago you nearly gave it all up. Glad you didn’t?
I’d found it really hard to step up from the juniors to the WQS. Then the crisis hit the surf business and at 19 I found myself without sponsors and without decent resutls. I went back home to Reunion Island to figure things out with my folks. We decided it’d be a big shame to just let those years of competing and training come to nothing, so we put together a program for my qualifying for the WCT within two years, and it worked.

When you lost your sponsor did you feel it had to do with not looking like a model? Not having a perfect ass?
That’s just the way the business is, those girls that can make the most of that, good luck to them. It’s certainly not nice to be told that you don’t have the right figure, but at the same time, it lights a fire for you to try even harder. Maybe I had it too easy when I was younger, results and sponsors came relatively easy for me and I took them for granted. So losing my sponsor game me a huge motivation that maybe I was lacking.


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