SE: Clearly your parents must have had a big influence but what is it that really made you decide to follow of pro career in surfing? Was it inevitable? LAC: Because I grew up at the beach with my parents, it’s true that I started to surf really young. But I did try my hand at other sports before dedicating myself to surfing. In the end I guess I chose surfing because I just love to be in the water and every session is always very different to the previous one, it’s not a sport that’s too repetitive.
You’ve nearly finished your studies, what now? I’m planning to devote the next three years to surfing and trying to qualify for the WCT.
Which pro surfers have influenced you most and why? There are loads of surfers I look up to… But mostly I’d say Stephanie Gilmore because she surfs super good and never seems too serious about it, or Lisa Andersen, she’s a legend and I really like her style.
With your dad living back in Santa Barbara, you must spend a fair bit of time over there. From a purely surfing point of view, which do you prefer California or France? Both places are very different… the point breaks in California are amazing but you don’t get too many waves there in the summer. And around September and October there’s no place I’d rather be than France because the surf is mind-blowing there at that time of year. In fact, the two compliment each other really well.
When you go surf with your dad, does he coach you or just let you do your thing? A bit of both. No, in fact he doesn’t really coach me but sometimes he’ll give me a few tips and always helps me to choose good waves. If there’s a bomb then dad will always let me go on it, which is pretty cool.
And your surfing lineage isn’t just paternal... Isn’t a there a spot in the French Basque Country named by your mum’s father? Yeah, my mum was European vice-champion back in the day, and two of my aunts and one of my uncles were French champions, as well as my cousins Jéjé Brasset and Justin Delanne. Otherwise, I have a whole bunch of cousins that are fully into surfing, and it’s rare for me to paddle out without bumping into one of them. But yeah, my grandpa was the one who named the left, Les Alcyons, at Guethary. There was no access down to the beach back then and he and my grandma cleared the way down there. They also used to give swimming lessons I think.
You look a lot like your dad. Do you think it ever plays in your favour seeing as most surfers (presumably including the judges) hold him in such high regard? No, not really. I think the judges do their best to be impartial, and I don’t get the impression I’m being over-scored … I think I’m scored like everyone else.
How do you deal with the pressure that comes from your dad being so famous? I felt a little pressure when I was starting out, but it’s never been a big issue. My parents have done their best not to put pressure on me in contests, or for sponsors. Of course, everyone gets a little nervous before a heat, but that’s just normal.
You play guitar and paint, do you consider surfing to be an artistic form of expression or is it just like any other high performance sport? Both, I think surfing is artistic because it’s a beautiful sport, but the higher you push your performance the more possibilities are opened up to you on the wave. It’s like with the guitar, the more you practise the better you play.
How does it feel to see a giant poster of you at La Gravière with 'Lee Ann's playground' written on it? It does feel a bit weird! But it’s cool, I think it’s a good photo and it’s a great souvenir from that session. My dad was in France so one Sunday afternoon I went to see him in Hossegor with my brother. I got there a bit late, but the waves were going off and I was in the water for four hours straight. Then my dad came to pick me up and we went five minutes north and the surf was even better! We ended up surfing until nightfall.
In this part of Europe anyway, you see a lot of girls surfing during the summer but come November to May there are hardly any. Do you think the level of women’s surfing is really progressing? I think the water is a lot colder in France during the winter than say in California, that’s why there are fewer girls in the water here. Nevertheless I still think women’s surfing is progressing and not just in terms of surfwear sales, as we’re beginning to see more and more girls in surf clubs and on the Pole France team, for example. Annabelle was the first to join the team about three years ago and last year we were four in total, and we’re getting more and more applications from girls every day.
What advice would you give to girls who like surfing but haven’t had the chance to grow up living by the coast? You just need to grab every surf opportunity you can. I have a friend who lives in Paris and is really into it, she spent a lot of time doing various surf camps on the Basque coast. Now she’s moving to Hawaii with some friends to live out her dream after winning a competition and I think it’s brilliant, I wish the same luck for all other girls who are passionate about surfing.
Finally Lee Ann, how important is style for you? Would you rather lose a heat surfing with style or win a heat with bad style? I think that style is really important because it’s what makes surfing so fun to watch, and my dad’s style is definitely my favourite. It’s classic and yet original. I love watching him surf, it’s really inspiring. To be honest, I’d much prefer to lose a heat surfing well as I hate winning a heat with the feeling that I’ve surfed badly.