10 QUESTIONS WITH JOHANNE DEFAY
"It’s not nice being told (by a sponsor) that you don’t have the right figure. But at the same time, it lights a fire... you try even harder"
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.
Johanne ripped Trestles for a 3rd place finish, making fans of the good people of America in the process. Photo: @johannedefay Instagram
So what motivates you now?
To surf for myself above all, and not for sponsors. To surf and enjoy it. To make my mark on the tour as best I can and prove myself. And to give something back to those who’ve stood by me and supported me.
What about your deal with Jérémy (Flores)?
He’s supported me financially, so I could go out and do the tour, and he’s been there to offer a bit of guidance after my first losses. I had a lot of highs and lows within a short space of time and he helped me deal with that, you need to be able to pick yourself up and go again pretty quickly. That’s the kind of advice you need from people who are experienced in life on the tour. When you see someone like Carissa Moore travelling with her dad, boyfriend, coach and cameraman, it’s those people who all offer invaluable support.
Do you offer him some advice back?
Not really, I don’t really have any advice for him regarding surfing, he’s so experienced on tour, he knows what he’s doing. It’s not really my place to speculate, but maybe he’s a little bit over it.
Do women surfers peak earlier than men?
It can seem that way. Noone over 30 on the womens tour, whereas the men seem to be getting older and older. It’s just a question of maturity, in surfing and in life! The thing that strikes me is that the men are more at ease on the World Tour and the women are less so. The other thing I guess that’s true across any sport is that when men want to start a family, they don’t need to stop competing. I was actually talking to Steph Gilmore about this recently and she told me that she sees herself sticking on tour a while. She likes the lifestyle, travelling, she’s not tied down. So maybe that’s the secret to longevity.