How to win Sunset with Michel Bourez
Interview by Morgan Williamson
When everything’s happening all at once how do you plan for success? The Vans World Cup of Surfing at Sunset may be the most challenging event of the QS. The waves are shifty, they thump and water moves like a sporadic dance off beat: Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger. It’s a tough contest to excel in. You have to know the break. Power surfing and local knowledge are premium assets. “I feel like it’s always the same people who do good at Sunset,” Michel Bourez, last year’s winner, tells Stab a few hours before winning his round three heat with a 9 and and a 9.60, clocking the highest heat score of the day. So, we had a little chat about what it takes to rack up a good result at Sunset.
Stab: How important is board choice out at Sunset?
Michel: Sunset’s one of the hardest places to get a good result. There’s just so much water moving, and you never know where it’s going to break. You have to pick the right board: I like to ride a 6’8” out there most the time; today I’ll be riding that. If it picks up to 10 foot-plus, then I’ll ride my 6’10”.
When it’s always shifting, how do you find the right waves for a good result? It’s so hard to pick a good one. A lot of times at first they look good but then it closes out on you. So you need to find one that will at least allow you to do one big turn. You also have to be conscious of where you place yourself. When you take off deeper, I feel like you have a better chance to get a few turns in on a wave. Waiting way outside can hurt you though; you just end up doing check turns and hoping the wave will materialise. It all depends on the swell direction. If it’s breaking where there’s actually one main peak that’s better for everyone… but usually that’s not the case.
It’s a rarity to see someone take to the air out there. What kind of surfing is the focus at Sunset? Power surfing’s what gets good scores. Sunset’s probably the only comp of the year where you know you’re not going to ride anything shorter than a 6’3”. You know you’re not going to do airs and you have to use your power; that makes all the difference. It breaks pretty far out. You need to be make big turns with a lot of spray so the judges can see it.
Who’s the most dominant there? Anyone who’s won in the past. The guys like Dusty (Payne), John John (Florence), pretty much all the CT guys and Makua (Rothman). He’s always out there charging and getting the sickest waves. Ian Walsh is also deadly out there. At Sunset you never know what’s going to happen. You could be the best surfer in the world but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get the two best waves. You've got to prepare for anything and make things happen.
What’s the best way to prepare for a break that’s constantly changing? Local knowledge prevails. During the freesurfs I watch what the locals are doing; like Ian Walsh and Makua. They know the wave so well, it’s good to see where they place themselves. I’ve kind of been following them around in the freesurfs (laughs), but they don’t know that… Whenever sets come through those guys are always in the right place.
What’s the most difficult thing to deal with out there? It’s just a hard spot to surf. It’s always moving. It’s not like when you surf at Trestles, Teahupoo or even Margaret River where it breaks in the same place. At Sunset you know you can get smashed if a west one comes through and you’re too deep. It’s easy to get caught inside. You have to be prepared to get smashed, lose your board and have to paddle all the way back out. You have to be ready for anything and everything.
Where’d your winning result grow from last year? Last year I just wanted it really badly. I was so tired that morning. I didn’t have a good night's sleep. I was talking to my wife and I told her: I’m going to win (laughs). But it’s all about catching the right waves. Last year I was lucky enough to get that 10-point ride, which set the bar high early in the heat.