Two Penneth with French big wave charger and La Graviere stalwart Yann Benetrix

Ocean experience, whatever the medium, is good experience. I started out on a boogie at 9 years old, thinking it was a surfboard. That allowed me to pull into heavy pits at La Gravière with the likes of Maurice Cole, Curren and other tube-riding experts by the time I was 13. So thanks to the sponge I came in contact with some of the best surfers in the world at the most select spot in the region while other locals watched on from La Sud. Then I moved onto surfing mainly due to the influence of Jean Sarthou, and tried to maintain the ability to read those kinds of waves without getting too scared when it got big and mean.

Localism has its reasons. If Hawaiians hadn’t policed their own beaches on the North Shore, they would have been trampled on by everyone else. I’m not defending localism, sometimes it’s just necessary. With time, I’ve become a lot mellower in the water, but don’t think that means you can paddle around me (laughs). But with experience you just realise there’s no point getting all aggro in the water every five minutes.

Tow surfing has been like a second lease of life for me. People who talk shit on tow surfing and the use of jetskis have got it wrong because beyond the machine itself (which pollutes less than some cars I see on the roads), you actually learn a whole lot about the surf and ocean. You’re right out the back, a lot further out than when you’re paddling, the size of the waves and consequences demand a real at-oneness with the elements.
Three things encouraged me to choose this path. Everything started from being frustrated at seeing these perfect waves breaking out of reach, like some forbidden kingdom. Then one day I saw Todd Lee and Thierry Domenech trying to paddle in to outside Culs Nus when La Gravière was already a solid 10-foot. That’s when I told myself it had to be possible to surf there. Tom Curren encouraged Seb and me to be the first to surf those waves. Today, after ten years of jetski-assisted surfing, things are snowballing out of control, the pressure’s mounting with rewards like the XXL. In a way it’s a shame, we were happy out the back on our own.

The wave at La Gravière has changed with the progression of European surfing and the boardsports industry. There are more and more people in the water, more and more pros and talent out there, but what’s cool is that the place continues to humble even the best out there. These days in the water there are three types of surfers: Those who’ve travelled and understand what surfing’s about and respect others in the line-up. Then you have your pseudo-pros with big egos, ready to snake the slightest wave whenever possible and then there are those who really don’t understand anything at all.


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