Courageous QS Incumbent Descends On Reunion Island For Week Of Shark-Fueled-Terror-Surfing
“Every surf I was looking around to see if there were any fins…always an eye under my board.” – Jorgann Couzinet
Jorgann Couzinet is a relatively successful QS surfer (in the sense that if you were a truly successful QS surfer, you wouldn’t be a QS surfer) who has finished 15th, 16th, and 18th in his last three years on surfing’s lower tour.
Jorgann is French by flag, but like Jeremy Flores and Johanne Defay, considers himself a product of Réunion Island—a small and, in recent times, infamously shark-infested Indian Ocean island off Madagascar’s eastern coast. So shark-infested, in fact, that three years ago, self-anointed environmentalist Kelly Slater called for a “serious cull” in Reunion “every day.”
To put Kelly’s claim into perspective, between 2011-2016, Reunion accounted for 16% of the world’s fatal shark attacks (despite being just 2,500 sq. km—about a quarter the size of Hawaii’s Big Island). So, disproportionately lethal to say the least.
The reasons behind Reunion’s shark epidemic vary depending on who you ask, but the effects are undeniable. As a result of the deaths, Réunion Island has closed many of its waters to surfers, swimmers, fishermen, and the like. Consequentially, tourism rates have dropped significantly, as have the local fishermen’s ability to produce a living. Perhaps worst of all, the residents of Réunion have lost their peace of mind around entering the water, which for a small island nation, is the only healthy escape from life’s daily beatings.
Jorgann Couzinet decided he’d had enough of it. Enough of the fear, enough of the sadness, enough of hearing about those damned sharks. So, he paid a filmer, flew down to Réunion, and made the above surf clip at a wave you might remember from Modern Collective. The airs might be smaller but the risk level is sky-high.
(Hot tip: if you don’t want to watch a Réunion Tourism ad, skip ahead to 2:25)
Surprised at first that Jorgann had taken this leap of faith, then even more flabbergasted by the number of people who still appear to surf in Réunion (the spots look properly crowded in the clip), I decided to ask the Frenchman a few questions about his recent trip.
Stab: What inspired you to go to Réunion, despite the shark issues they’ve had?
Jorgann Couzinet: To be honest, I just love Réunion so much. It’s my home. It’s where I used to live. I always had the idea to make a clip there that shows how beautiful it is.
The latest fatal attack in Reunion was in 2019 at St. Leu. Did you surf the famous left-hander?
The first day I received my boards, I went straight to St. Leu where my friend Kim died couple months ago. I was super nervous and my mind was thinking about him a lot. I got a couple clean ones and surfed for 30 minutes then ran away!
Did most of the waves you surfed on this trip have a shark net out the back or were they open-ocean?
There is a possibility to surf with some guys in the water with weapons [government-subsidized scuba divers armed with spear guns to protect ocean-goers], and I respect them a lot, but it’s just a bit crowded at those spots. I was more surfing in Saint Pierre in the south. The waves are really good there and it’s also cool there because there’s no natural reserve. In the west, there is a natural reserve, and that’s where all the attacks seem to happen.
What’s the local conversation about sharks/surfing in Réunion nowadays?
Most of the conversations we have is about the weather—if it’s rainy we don’t surf. It makes me angry, because before we used to surf all day, even when it was raining during cyclones. Now if you do that you’ll die!
How scary is it surfing in Reunion?
Every surf I was looking around to see if there were any fins…always an eye under my board. Then as soon as I fell I’d sprint back on my board. Also, to make my mind less scared, I was surfing with a shark shield.
For those who are curious, Jorgann uses Ocean Guardian shark deterrents for all of his survival needs. Not an ad.
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