Interview by Archibald Jaeckin
I could examine his life story. Reminisce about the idyllic landscapes of his native Caribbean island. Pick though his junior contest results to date. Break down his powerful and technical style. Investigate into whether he plans on one day becoming World Champion, Pipe Master etc, but for now Dimitri doesn’t seem to care (much). That is ‘for now’ though, as the boy is fully aware of what it takes to rise up through the ranks, he knows that one day he’ll have to pull that contest jersey back on. The idea of it doesn’t trouble him, in fact quite the opposite. But at present he’s focused on building up his artillery, working on perfecting all the different components of his surfing game. He keeps an eye on all the world’s best goofyfoots rather than just one surfer in particular. He enjoys technical backhand tube riding and the lefthand bowls of Les Bourdaines to practice his airs. In short, Dimitri continues to make the most of his present freedom to surf as much as possible and as certain experiences and sessions often present more insight than long interviews… I chose to talk to the St Barts goofyfoot about three different destinations and a couple of his most memorable sessions.
For Dimitri, it’s simply where everything’s at, and where he’s most excited to travel to every year. This year a shoulder injury prevented him from surfing and frustrated him to such a point where he now seems more hungry than ever, even several months later. He knows full well that Hawaii is the true proving ground. Familiarizing yourself with the place and making a name for yourself out there is essential to a successful career. At least it’s what everybody has told him over and over…
So for now this is what he’s focusing on, spending as much time as possible surfing in Hawaii. He remembers one session in particular, not at Pipe, nor at Backdoor, nor a perfect, uncrowded session at Backyards. But a session that goes back two years when he was staying at the Quiksilver house on the North Shore. Jeremy Flores is watching Phantoms break on the outer reefs and talks the two younger team rippers Dimitri and Ramzi into giving it a go. Flores lends Ramzi a 10-foot board and an 11’0 to Dimitri so there was no way of weaselling their way out of it. Down the stringer Dimitri sees Kala Alexander’s name written… which he finds nearly as intimidating as the open ocean lineup he’s about to paddle out to.
Far from the media frenzy of Pipeline, the three friends jumped in the water at V Land and Dimitri could feel his heart thumping as he approached the deep water big wave spot over a kilometre out to sea. Nobody out. The water was brown due to severe rainfall and the atmosphere unsettling – usually there are always a couple of Hawaiians out there when it’s breaking. The previous day waves had been washing through and they’d very nearly launched the Eddie. It’s always hard to say how big exactly, maybe 15 feet, maybe more. Jeremy led the way by taking off deep and charging hard. Dimitri and Ramzi were left out the back on their own. It’s really tricky to line-up when you’re so far out to sea and your eyes are firmly fixed on the horizon watching for any rogue wide ones. The two new recruits ended up catching and riding their first wave together and immediately gained in confidence. A couple of bomb sets come through and everyone settles into the session. The highlight for Dimitri was a wave all three of them screamed their way into and down the drop before all three of them being annihilated. These are the kinds of moments you really remember and help to shape strong, lasting friendships.
Jeremy continued to rush a few on the inside before copping a heavy wipeout. A little concerned, Dimitri paddled towards him after the set had rolled through. The World Tour competitor looked a little shook up, short on breath… they caught a couple more and then it was time to paddle in. Making it back to dry land after a session like that is always a relief but at the same time keeps you stoked for days to come. There’s a sparkle in Dimitri’s eyes as he recounts his first true big wave Hawaiian experience, a session that clearly broadened his surfing horizons and at the same time served as a testament to his commitment.
There is the Indonesia of the wealthy, boat trips in the Mentawais, and the Indonesia of the less affluent, mosquitoes, heat, endless travel, no air con, terrible roads, leaking boats, food that’s too hot, and a wave called Apocalypse. Dimitri is familiar with the ease of boat trips in the Mentawais, in fact he was headed right back out there in a couple days time. But for this trip, in the company of Sancho, just getting to Apocalypse is a challenge, three days without much sleep to arrive at Indo’s heaviest right-hander. Ultra fast, with an evil inclination to shut down and serve even heavier wipeouts than Backdoor or Pipe according to Dimitri.
Bede Durbidge and Mikala Jones also showed up for the swell. The wave didn’t look that big from the boat but when Bede swung, dropped and pulled in, the White Fijian’s tall, sturdy frame looked miniscule in the heaving almond shaped barrel. Bede snapped his board on his second wave. Mikala and the other Hawaiians all buckled their boards on their first waves, setting the atmosphere and challenge ahead, “In those moments it’s comforting to be in Sancho’s company,” says Dimitri. “He gives me confidence, reassures me when it’s heavy, and in return I hope he gains something from my youthful enthusiasm.” Dimitri was clearly impressed by the wave but not scared and his friendship with Sancho over the last couple of years is no pure coincidence. Each of them scored amazing barrels and heavy wipeouts. The 15-second underwater rag-dolling is of a rare intensity. But Dimitri is well equipped to handle the worst of it. Growing up sailing and diving with his dad on the island of St Barts in the Caribbean, he’s comfortable spending long periods of time underwater. Although it seems to surprise him a little, he actually feels at ease at Apocalypse. Sancho, on the other hand, injured himself. And a few days before this session, Dimitri, Othmane Choufani and Jérôme Sayoune all scored Desert Point, which offered Dimitri a couple of very long Lombok tubes and a return to form after a shoulder operation following a heavy wipeout at Hossegor’s La Nord.
It was this past winter towing with Sancho that Dimitri injured himself. After a couple of big, perfect days, he puts the injury down to fatigue. The lip at La Nord clipped him just as he was exiting the barrel. It was as if his shoulder dislocated and then popped back into place. On resurfacing, he could barely move his arm and Sancho quickly came to pick him up on the jetski. The next days, Dimitri admits to having not really taken the time to look after the injury. “I got given some anti-inflammatories and for a few days I couldn’t really feel anything. But then during a trip to Morocco, the pain came back and I couldn’t actually surf anymore.” So he went to see a doctor and was told he’d need an operation and lots of rest. The tough reality of injuries would commence. First to not be able to surf when your mates are scoring and then the long road to recovery. Working closely with the Quiksilver team, physical trainer Yannick Beven, who helped Jeremy Flores through his series of injuries, was able to offer Dimitri helpful advice. The near-military style physical therapy of the CERS in Capbreton, 8h-17h non stop, ensured a full-recovery if not better physical form.
While at the centre, Dimitri met other high-level athletes, rugby players, footballers, motocross champions, and was able to learn a lot from his time there, “There’s no time for distractions, its top level physiotherapy. It’s made me realise that you really need to look after your body and be aware of its limitations. We were also taught how to improve on our physical fitness, to push your physical performance as far as it will go so that you’re in a position to give everything you’ve got, the idea is the same for all sports… since then I’ve gone a little easier on the number of nights out”, he quips. And yet the temptation for Dimitri to go out and party are plenty, surrounded by a tight group of friends like Ramzi, Othmane, PV, Sancho and Marc Lacomare. When he’s in France, the temptation of hitting the bars and nightclubs is big and his natural tendency to go out and party hard can’t make it any easier, “I love to go out and dance, I don’t know why, it must be something in my island blood maybe, either way I feel like I’m quite different to all my friends round here in that respect… Hanging out with Ramzi and Othmane means that come midnight I can even speak fluent Arabic hahaha!” Talking about his friends, there’s that sparkle in his eye again, a very similar glow to when he recounts his sessions at Phantoms or Apocalypse.
On arrival on French mainland soil a few years back Dimitri’s somewhat timid nature is now barely visible. Today he seems nearly as comfortable giving interviews as he is ducking into thick Gravière barrels. He’s slowly but surely earned a place for himself on the French surf scene. And while he does remain discrete by nature, his enthusiasm and passion for riding waves has no problem shining through.