His name is phonetically equivalent in French to Naum He Smashes. Naum He Destroys.
It’s a pretty cool name for a surfer, but then what’s in a name? He goes to Hawaii every year around this time, but this year is a bit different, since he has recently finished his final exams for a business degree. Finished for good. Freshly emancipated from academia, and with a lingering grey chill in to sky and water, it seems like a great day to go far, far away.
The first time I met Naum Ildefonse was a few years back on a magazine trip to the Med. I did a bit of (crap) French, he looked at me for a few drawn out seconds through lidded eyes, and replied in English. Since then we’ve conversed in my tongue. His is fluent and easy, with a soft American accent. The voice has a bit more of a sing-songy pitch than you’d imagine. He stands slightly shorter than he ‘looks on TV’.
We meet in Ventilo, a café-bar in Biarritz. He’s clothed in a grey Nike tracksuit, worn with more of a relaxing-round-the-house rather than a just-off-for-a jog vibe. He doesn’t like my choice of table, so we relocate to a corner. He orders the plat du jour, which is pork. I remember this place being something of a fleshpot on a summer’s evening in the past and ask if it still is. “Man, even in winter, this is the spot for the beautiful women. Last night I was here having a quiet drink with a couple of friends before I go away and this group of eight girls came in. All of them hot. I was in my tracky bottoms… So I quickly went home, put jeans on, came back and ended up out in a club till 5 in the morning, hahaha.”
Chopes. Photo: Laurel
We start at the beginning. I’ve got no real set idea for the questions except for, above all else, to avoid doing an interview about being ‘a freesurfer’. Or ‘freesurfeur’. Avoid all inevitable talk of a career as a ‘freesurfer’ vs ‘contest surfer’. “I was born in 1988 in Recife, Brazil,” he explains when prodded for his lifestory, one involving a particularly early involvement in the surf biz. “Arrived in France when I was one year old. I started surfing on a boogie board in Anglet, then we moved to Bidart (the next village south from Biarritz). I joined the surf club there and grew up surfing with guys like Manu Portet and Loic Erran. I think I was sponsored by Quiksilver since I was 3 or 4, (laughs). There was a little studio next to our place. Simon Wotton lived there, who was working at Quik. I think I did my first photo shoot for Quik when I was three, and my sister was one, hahaha. Anyway, they gave me clothes and wetsuits and all that, and they supported me a lot as I grew up.” Naum recalls doing the European Pro Junior events as a teenager with limited success, and admits not being really into surfing “with angry guys”. Anyway, he elected for undergraduate study in Business Marketing, not for a love of scholarly travails, more out of a realism about his place in the world. “I knew I wasn’t going to be the next Kelly Slater,” he admits. But studying hasn’t exactly been his raison d’etre, and by his own admission, he’s not a natural bookworm. “I kind of hate it in many ways. I’m not a real academic person, at all. But I just knew it’d be good to have something to fall back on when I needed it. Surfing isn’t going to pay me forever.”
When it comes to getting a surfing education, there are few better places than the North Shore, a place Naum has spent considerable time in his formative years. Going late season and staying a while offers a favourable mix of less crowds, and more rich pickings to go around an already well-fed crew. As a result, as opposed to many a contemporary Euro pro who might be king of his home beachbreaks, yet not really relish the prospect of the Seven Mile Miracle’s premium breaks, surfing’s own Marmite (love it or hate it) effect if you like, you’re perhaps as likely to see Naum on a set wave at Pipe/Backdoor/Off The Wall than getting overly excited at his local Biscay sandforms. “I’ve been going to the North Shore and staying a few months since I was 14. When I was little I already knew Pepe (Laurent Pujol), and I was hanging around the Quik house, coz Pepe was hanging out there with his buddy Nathan Fletcher. I used to just follow him about and hang out, and met those North Shore guys like Healey, Danny Fuller and Reef McIntosh at the house. Over time I suppose crew started to get to know me a bit, they gave me the nickname Blacknuts. I guess I know a lot of the North Shore boys in the lineup, but there’s still some guys that kind of look at you like, ‘Who the fuck is that?’ I think they think I’m Brazilian, hahaha.”
Given his heritage and contemporaries, it’s kind of a foregone conclusion that the boy will have done some form of Jiu jitsu training, or a safe assumption at least. “Well yeah, a bit,” he admits. “I used to train quite a bit, not so much now. I used to stay at the Performance House in Hawaii where Kron Gracie trains a lot of the boys over there, so I used to practice a bit.” I press him on whether he’d fancy his chances against his Jeremy Flores in that form of combat. “Jeremy? Well he’s been training a lot these days… but, yeah. Probably. I should be able to take him down hahaha…” While the likes of Flores and others from the same peer group have gone on to forge pro careers on tour, Naum has taken a less structured path around chasing swells, and in particular, barrels. With the obvious role model, if we might refer to him as that, of a certain M. Sancho, Naum admits his fellow Frenchman has trod an enviable path as paid tube seeker. “But I’m not trying to go bigger or gnarlier than someone else. I like the idea of new waves and pushing myself, but it’s not a contest. I just want to get barrelled and get good ones. In terms of a career path, I guess it would be similar to like what Sancho does, but just, erm, better…. Hahaha.”