Maneuvering A 4'2 Through Surfing's Greatest Shark Pit - Stab Mag

Maneuvering A 4’2 Through Surfing’s Greatest Shark Pit

Adrien Toyon cruises through Reunion Island on microscopic wave crafts.

Words by Jack Mutschler

Adrien Toyon recently took a trip to Reunion Island, where he grew up. The clip above shows him confidently navigating through the sharky hotspot on boards no bigger than 5 feet.

Since Reunion Island has had many shark attack problems in the past, water-sports have been mostly banned there for the last nine years.

We caught up with Adrien to discuss board length, sharks, and the current issue with surfing on Reunion Island.

Stab: Those boards you’re riding are tiny, how tall are you? And how big are they?

Adrien Toyon: I am not that tall, about 5’10, but yeah, those boards are pretty small. The first twin is a 5’0 from Noon. The other one is a 4’2. I really enjoyed watching some videos of Davey Van Zyl on his Donald Brink. I went to my mate Numb here in Biarritz, and asked him if we could build something similar. Nico is a young shaper, but he is very talented!

Do you ever ride basic, normal-sized thrusters anymore, or have alternative boards become your standard?

Yes, I still ride thrusters when the waves ask for it. For the last couple of years, I have been mostly riding alternative crafts. Also been trying to longboard recently, but I suck…

I’m a bit of a small board enthusiast myself. I like the uncomfortable amount of speed you can generate on those things. What’s your favorite part about riding small wave crafts? And how do you manage to hold a bottom turn on a 4’2?

Well, it feels really good to have no foam on the nose. If you think about it, it’s not necessary, especially in easy waves like St Leu. If we compared it to skateboarding, would you ride a long skateboard in a bowl? I have a 4’6 quad from Tyler Warren on its way can’t wait to try it.

Bottom turn tip: stay low and put some weight on that back foot.

Reunion Island has a bit of an issue with surfing. Can you remind us what’s going on?

Anyone that has been to reunion can only love it; it’s a mix of tropical French African surf trips—so much potential there in terms of waves. I think we only surfed 50% of the spots. Surfing is prohibited by law because of the incredible number of shark attacks for the past nine years. At the start, we never thought this would last forever. We also thought the government would have taken some other measures to solve the problems. I think the number of surfers went from 50k to less than 1k.

The préfet is going to extend the préfectoral order for nine more months. I just signed a petition to reopen the ocean last week.

How does the restriction work? Can you surf anywhere?

Well, you can kind of still use the ocean, but in really restricted areas like the lagoons, they also have put on some systems where you can surf under the watch of divers and jet skis. But it’s clearly not ideal and usually super-packed with surfers.

The government made that decision because they didn’t have an answer to the problem. When things get out of control, you shut it all down. That’s what we saw with the COVID-19.

Do you feel safe surfing out there? Given the numerous shark attacks.

Lucky me, I grew up surfing there when it was still paradise. These are the memories I carry with me now, even if reality is way different. When I paddle out, I don’t think about it. I  choose my sessions; I also don’t like to surf late in the day or alone.

Ever encounter a shark yourself? See something that made you paddle in?

Not really, but you hear a lot of stories… all the time. Two fishermen (spearfishing) got hunted by a great white the other day; that’s fucking scary. Nevertheless, the shark population is many tiger and bull sharks.

What do you think can be done to resolve these issues?

A big part of the problem is the marine sanctuary the government approved in 2007 (wild animals take territory when there is no human activity). The sanctuary can’t be removed because it’s in the French constitution now. If you think about it, does it make sense to create that in a touristy seaside zone?

There are also many other factors that I don’t know or control. One sure thing is it’s hard not to have access to the ocean when you live on a tiny island in the middle of nowhere.

The ocean is our blue gold; all surfers love it and respect it. Hoping for better days to come, especially for the new generations of surfer. During my recent trip, I was stoked to see the groms surfing and enjoying themselves. No attacks for 2 years, I hope it stays like that for a while.

You can watch Adrien’s latest clip here.

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