Tahitian big wave charger Michel Bourez sealed a memorable victory on home waters on Friday night following the final day of action at the second edition of O’Neill The Mission.
The final day of this ultimate freesurf contest challenge capped an incredible week for the surfers competing for their share of the US$50,000 total prize purse in the paradise setting of French Polynesia. Boarding the luxury Haumana yacht some six days ago off the tiny atoll of Fakarava in the Tuamotus, the eight surfers returned to the starting point for a contest-ending rider-judged video review session to determine who would walk away with the champion’s title and $25,000 winner’s cheque.
After Thursday’s explosive sessions on the right hand wave at Teporioha Pass, contest organizers and surfers decided to switch the action over to the left wave on Friday morning for the final session of the week-long trip. With only a few hours to go before the evening’s voting session, surfers had one final window in which to nail any aspects they felt were missing from their latest edits.
Returning to the Haumana just before lunch, O’Neill team rider Jarrad Howse was stoked to wrap up his video part so late on in the day, saying: "It was fun out there; not as big or as consistent as it was on the left wave yesterday morning, but still fun. I’m going to run up to the edit suite in a minute and add a couple of the waves I just bagged to my part. It’s been really cool putting a part together like this – I’ve never done it before. I’m not too sure which track I’ll use, so I’m going to trawl through my iTunes this afternoon and hopefully I’ll find something good."
With all eight surfers back on the Haumana, it was time to turn the boat around and head north back to the Maitai Dream Resort. While choppier conditions out on the open seas provoked a number of early exits from the 3-course lunch, an almost palpable sense of anticipation reigned nevertheless as surfers put the finishing touches to their three minute video edits.
Come nightfall, it was time to sit back and enjoy the show as each surfer presented their very finest highlights from the week. Standout moments included former ASP Men’s World Tour surfer Howse’s trademark off-the-lip snaps, Justin Mujica’s timeless floaters and seemingly endless tube rides signed by Maui Young Gun Clay Marzo and French Polynesia’s Manoa Drollet. Speaking after all eight clips had been played, reigning champion Ian Walsh said: "Wow! There was so much good surfing this week, it makes picking a winner especially difficult this time around. We all had a great time from the moment we boarded the boat. Michel and Clay both ripped so I think we’ll definitely see both of them on the podium. Let’s wait and see."
Once the votes had been counted, 29-year-old big wave charger Manoa Drollet had done enough to claim 3rd place thanks in no small part to his exceptional choice of waves and incredible tube riding talent. Having grown up in the shadow of world-famous reef breaks including Teahupoo, Drollet made home advantage pay handsomely throughout the contest. Reflecting on the whole week, Drollet said: "Even though the contest took place in French Polynesia, we still managed to find waves I’d never surfed before which is pretty special for me."
Edging out Drollet to claim the runner's-up spot was 17-year-old Maui sensation Clay Marzo. The dark horse of the contest amazed everyone with some of the week's most progressive surfing and has gone a long way to cementing his reputation as one of the sport's next big things. O’Neill The Mission 2007, however, undoubtedly belonged to 21-year-old Tahitian ripper Michel Bourez.
Crowned ASP Europe Champion in 2006, Bourez has blazed a path to glory all week long with incredible performances during every official session. With the winner’s trophy clasped between his hands, Bourez said: "I’m really proud to win here, especially so close to Tahiti. Everyone surfed great this week and perhaps my aerials were enough to push me out in front. I’m just really happy Manoa and I finished in the top three, see you all next year I hope!"
Check the O’Neill The Mission website for all the latest news and video highlights: www.oneilleurope.com/themission.