Having freshly penned a deal with Analog to charge and get barrelled, Europe’s most experienced and best connected north shore devotee Pepe le Pew, at 34, is fit, focused and fired up. we caught up with him in hawaii late season to find out about the view from the other pro surf circuit, the tube tour.
We know you mostly thru photos we see in magazines, but don’t know as much about your story.
I was born in Bezier (French Med coast) and with my parents and sister, left France at the age of 7. We landed in Argentina for a few years and then St. Martin (French side) for two years. Florida was next and that’s where I started surfing with the likes of the Hobgoods, Morcom, that Slater guy, etc.. Finished high school there and moved on to California for 3 years of junior college. That’s when I started going to Hawaii, in the winter 90/91. I would save money as a waiter in a restaurant to spend three or four months there and haven’t missed a year since. A Brazilian friend told me about an EPSA tour in Europe for which you had to be European at the time. So I headed back to my roots, with it in mind that I was going to be a professional surfer. At the time (1994) the professionalism in Europe wasn’t what it is today with all the European pros and media. There were barely any French surfers in Surf Session (French surf mag), which was then the only one.
So things have changed a fair bit today, huh?
Now, it’s a different story with a new generation, huge contracts and banks are willing to give pro surfers mortgages (which was something you would of got laughed at in 94). I’m really proud of the new generation with guys like Russ, Eric and Miky qualifying for the CT and Tiago or Patrick being able to win huge WQS events. Not to mention Jeremy smoking everyone and winning the WQS tour last year. That sort of stuff will boost the next generation to a whole new level. They can identify themselves with him and is something we have been lacking here in the contest department. The kids don’t only see Americans/Australians in our mags anymore or winning a WQS event and can say.. ‘that’s what I wanna do’. It’s really cool to have witnessed this evolution and an honour to have been a part of it.
What’s your earliest surf memory?
Surfing 2ft wind chop in Florida and would stay out all day getting thrashed by the jellyfish. To the point of not being able to sleep at night from itching. We would be back out there the next day, psyching for more. It’s a good place to learn how to surf as a grom because of the small waves and warm water. Although after a certain level, it’s time get the hell out of there to get some real waves. And once you do, you stay out all day because of the fact that it seems insane after Florida.
What are the main differences between the Californian and European surf scenes in your eyes?
Surfing has existed in California for decades with the Duke showing them how it’s done. Professionalism in Europe began a little over 10 years ago. Of course that surfing had been brought to Europe well before, with guys like ‘Le pere’ Barland (shaper Michel Barland, ‘The wizard of Bayonne’) and others being showed the way from US and Oz visitors in Biarritz. I feel like Maurice Cole did so much for surfing here. He brought companies like Quiksilver and Rip Curl over and especially showed the way of surfing. Getting up early and surfing the best sandbars, getting shacked off his face at La Graviere, making sick boards for the locals, etc… I want to thank him for his contribution made to surfing in Europe. Good on ya mate!
Are you more French or American?
French for sure because it’s where I was born and raised, my first language and the place which I’ve spent the most of my life. By the age of 10, I spoke 3 languages (French, Spanish then English) and learning them young has taught me to think in the language when speaking it. Trying to translate something word for word from one language to the other is impossible. It will come out all wrong and most things need to be rephrased. You must think in the language and dream in all, which can be really trippy.
Which surfers have inspired you over the years?
Dane Kealoha, Curren, Pottz, the late Todd Chesser and many more… also, I get really inspired by the new generation as well and find it incredible how surfing has progressed. The shit they are doing these days is incredible and really exciting to watch. I feel surfing is the sport that has progressed the most the past 10 years and its level has been pushed further than any other sport today. The stuff going down in Hawaii the last few years is insane! For example, much deeper tube rides and not grabbing rail backside was unheard of just a decade ago. Its not one-lining the tube anymore, but doing from 4 to 7 huge pumps to come out the doggy-door at the keyhole (where the wave ends) at Backdoor. I think Buttons and Dane were some of the first to actually pump in the barrel. The evolution in the equipment has a lot to do with that and can take your confidence to a whole new level. There is no kicker to hit endless times such as for motocross or snowboarding, but have to deal more with Mother Nature and become a sailor. Each wave is different and it’s more of a spontaneous thing, which puts it more in the art department. Like drawing lines on a canvas and its really hard to judge and give a score for a wave.
European surfing is mainly about competitions… How’d you overcome that?
From 94-98, we (Boris, Didier and Fredo) followed the WQS tour and were the first actual crew to do it. I never got close to qualifying, but won a few events in Europe and in 1998 finished second overall to Miky on the EPSA. Competition can be really fun if consistently winning or getting good results. Unfortunately I did more losing than winning and remember getting so upset from losing a heat. It felt so wrong to go surfing and feel so shitty, hell it’s meant to be fun! Living in the US and learning from my friends who were making careers from free-surfing had a lot to do with it. They take it very seriously and work hard for the ‘right place/right time’ thing and I basically took that mentality back to France with me.
Is it hard to measure your performance as a freesurfer?
If no competitive results are required from sponsors, it means they want you present in the mags or on television representing them. Not doing so can bring some pressure. I’ve found that trying too hard to get ‘the shot’ can work against you. Best is to just go out there and focus on doing your thing, which is catching the best waves and riding them properly.
Today, what are your goals?
My main objective is doing better and better every winter in Hawaii. Which consists of getting more confidence, power and respect from the locals. This year has been like a religion, getting up at 5:30 every morning to get out there first thing. Trying to analyse the waves too much before going out can work against you. You see so much heavy shit go down that it will intimidate you and keep you on the porch hypnotised all day. Just paddling out and catching a few will get you in a good rhythm for the rest of the day, swell and season. You can catch half a dozen waves before anyone has wiped the shit out of their eyes.
What are one’s duties as a member of the Pipeline Posse?
Just being yourself will do just fine. Paddling out and catching a few bombs can help also… the main thing is not trying to impress anyone on land and let your surfing do the talking. I’ve met plenty of good people there over the years and really enjoy everything about it. Creating a relationship with Hawaii is the most important thing and not coming over to just get photos or results. Doing so will not give you the experience you need to perform and will most likely frustrate you more than anything. You gotta love the place and it will love you back.
Have you had a fight in the water in Hawaii?
It’s happened before and it’s pretty much inevitable, considering the crowds and ego. One thing is for sure, if you let someone walk on you, it will happen again.
Is that true for Europe too?
In Europe, there is more yelling going on and rarely does it go to blows. It’s for the better, cause fighting makes you feel like shit after, win or lose.
What about all the local wildcards in the Pipe Masters, your take on that?
Considering the name of the event ‘The Pipeline Masters’ you better be able to beat the best of the best out there. Otherwise change the name of the event. There are way too many guys that surf so good out there who definitely should have a shot at being called the Pipe Master.
What’s the secret of your longevity?
I’ve dedicated my life to surfing and it’s a great reason to wake up in the morning. Training, eating good foods and yoga keep me in tune for longevity and I feel that my surfing is yet to reach its peak. I’d like to paddle in to some bigger ones in the years to come and not tow-in as much when its 15-18ft, it’s getting out of control everywhere with tow-bros! Catching a big wave with your bare hands and making it, is the shit!! Got my first 9’4”, which I’ll be bringing back to France too, for Hawaii this year and it’s been really good fun to finally get out to outer-reefs and catching a few. I also have a brand new 10’5” waiting for me at Stretch’s in Santa Cruz, for Mavericks. To be honest, it’s a bit nerve racking just to own a board that big.. but you’ll never know if you don’t go.
Which European surfers are doing the do in Hawaii in your eyes?
Jeremy seems pretty psyched to perform over there, but I’m yet to see much of him there. It’s obvious that the talent is there but now he must put in the time. Naum Ildefonse is motivated as well and has been able to make friends and catch a few waves in the past couple of years. Gotta spend a lot of time over there and not sitting around watching MTV, or checking e-mails, missing the comforts of home. It’s simple to be the man at your home beach, but when you go surf with the best surfers in the world in the most powerful waves, it takes your surfing to another level. Not to mention that if you want to qualify or even become World Champ, it all comes down to Hawaii.
You’ve been teaming up a bit with Nathan Fletcher, tell us about that?
We’ve been friends for 15 years and he’s someone that I enjoy travelling and surfing with. He doesn’t sit around and judge people and does not wish to be judged, and that is something to respect. He’s just out there doing his thing and that’s pretty cool.
It’s been really motivating having him around saying ‘We’re out there’ when it’s heavy Pipe or ‘Let’s go to Mav’s’ for a swell. He’s definitely helped me push my limits over the past few years, surfing bigger waves and getting more in tune than ever with my equipment. Before it was like, Kelly’s riding this and Andy’s riding that, so I want the same thing. Now, I’m feeling so much more confident due to my equipment, helping me get into waves easier and get down the face quicker.
What about your new deal with Analog?
I just signed with Analog clothing this year and I’m really excited about it. Jake Burton is 100% owner and that means he has nobody like stockowners that don’t surf and add a lot of pressure to a company. It’s an honour to be a part of this program and have a boss and staff with so much passion for snowboarding, surfing, skating, art, etc. I heard he’s even got a MX track in his backyard. A couple of times a year, there are round-table meetings, where Jake gets together with the riders and staff to brainstorm on how to improve the product.
Finally Pepe, lead us out with your philosophy on life.
You can lead a horse to the water but you cannot make him drink. You can put a man through school, but you cannot make him think. Funny how it takes a lifetime to figure it out, and then you die.