UPDATE: People Are Still Surfing ‘La Jetee’ in Reunion Island - Stab Mag

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UPDATE: People Are Still Surfing ‘La Jetee’ in Reunion Island

Returning to the best & sharkiest air wave in the world, as seen in Mod Col, Bending Colors, and Ryan Miller’s ‘BSIES’.

cinema // Aug 14, 2022
Words by Ethan Davis
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Credit: Now Now Media 

It’s a funny risk-reward calculus we run when looking at an empty lineup. 

More waves, wonderful. 

But also, what am I missing here? 

As social creatures, we look to each other for reassurance regarding our behavior. It takes only a nefarious glare from a stranger to recognise the froth is boiling over and it’s time to turn it down a peg. In a vacuum, the froth tin needs no lid, you can wade through it, pour it down your throat, rub it on your belly, clockwise, spray it across the walls, shout it from the parapets etc.

But do not let people see/hear. 

‘La Jetee’ is the famous air wave popularized in Kai Neville’s 2009 film, ‘Modern Collective’. Those sessions inspired Julian Wilson and Jordy Smith to return to the wave in 2012 while filming for Bending Colors. In the film, they performed some of the most technical aerial surfing in the world at the time, later becoming the focus of Ryan Miller’s ‘The Best Surfing I’ve Ever Seen’ (BSIES) — a huge call from a man who has captured the top 0.1%’s heart-stopping performances regularly for the better part of three decades.

Despite that, few (but not nil) surfers have continued to surf ‘La Jetee’ in the time since Jules and Jordy packed up shop, mostly due to shark-related concerns. Seven people have died in Reunion Island (RI) in the time since Bending Colors was released, and RI, despite its diminutive size and population, accounts for 16% of all global shark-related fatalities. 

‘La Jetee’, however, remains one of the (if not the) best air waves in the world, and this clip documents Eli Beukes’ and Luke Slijpen’s successful quest to launch out of ‘La Jetee’s’ perfectly crumbling bowls. Below is a Q&A from the director of this clip, Alan Van Gysen, to give you the inside scoop on the current situation in RI. 

Stab: In the video, it says surfers didn’t stop going to ‘La Jetee’ during Reunion’s shark era because (apparently) there were no sharks on that side of the island. Why is this the first edit we’ve seen from here since Jordy and Julian in 2012?

Alan: Quite a few locals didn’t stop surfing La Jetée, mostly because there has never been an attack there. Some people believe this is because it’s not a marine protected area, so shark fishing was still allowed there, but others argue this is a fallacy. Traveling surfers have been few, but there have been visitors since Jordy and Julian in 2012. In the height of the shark crisis in May 2015, I traveled to Reunion with Brendon Gibbens and Dillon Perillo for their joint film project ‘The Dill and Beeg Project’.

What’s the general shark vibe in other parts of Reunion nowadays?

Shark attacks are still a concern in Reunion Island, and surfing outside of the designated protected areas is still technically illegal, but there has not been an attack in three years since 2019. Scientists can’t say for sure why, but there is important research being done and the establishment of protected surfing areas at places like St. Leu has made it safer.

The local surfing and lifeguard community have done an incredible job of rallying together with scientists to create water patrols and establish a number of protocols to try to minimise the risk at much as possible at these spots. We’re busy working on a more in-depth documentary on the shark situation in Reunion but in order to surf at St. Leu, you’re supposed to register on the beach and have a shark deterrent device on your person or on your board. Surfers still surf other parts of Reunion without organized protection measures but as mentioned, this is technically illegally (you could face a fine) and at their own risk.

Can you tell us a little bit about the surfers in the edit? 

Matthieu is a local surfer from St. Pierre who has watched and welcomed many traveling surfers over the years. He charges and graciously shared his local knowledge and waves with our small crew who made the journey to Reunion. 

Luke Slijpen and Eli Beukes are good friends from Cape Town, South Africa. They grew up competing against each other on the grom circuit going toe to toe, and have become good friends and sparring partners in the free surf sessions whenever they connect. They both rip, and during their time together in Reunion would push each other to go for different airs. They are both very humble, quiet guys, but once you get to know them they both have a wicked sense of humour.

We’re still ragging Eli for buying a 15-euro glass of plain orange juice at a restaurant one night in St. Pierre. It might not sound like much, but when you’re converting to South African Rand it becomes a joke worth laughing about. Luke has spent most of the year free surfing in Indo and South Africa. And Eli has been splitting his year up with the Challenger Series and freesurfing projects in Southern Africa.

Let the froth boil over.

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