Seeing someone rip waves like they were born for it although they didn't even grew up by the sea is always fascinating so we sat down with free surfer Céline Gehret from Switzerland, to talk us through her mountain heritage and the path to surfing
Interview by Anna Langer
Where are you and what are you up to at the moment?
Right now I'm in Newquay, surfing as much as possible when there are waves, and training when its flat (swimming, mountain biking, core training etc.) to keep myself fit. This Saturday I'm off to Switzerland to see my family and friends for a week and then off to France for surf training and shoots.
You've already traveled a lot for your surfing career. Can you still list them all?
England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Canary islands, Azores, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Panama, Barbados, Indonesia, Mentawai, Australia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Morocco, Hawaii...
Which place impressed you the most?
Its hard to pick just one place, all the places I've been to have impressed me in some way or another. There are all special in their own way, for reasons like good waves, amazing sceenery/nature, lovely people, great food, culture etc. I love travelling, I find it fascinating and eye-opening discovering other countries and cultures! I really love Hawaii, the lush green and beautiful parts of the islands and the contrasting volcanoes, the air smells of flowers and the waves are amazing! I met some really cool people over there and had such a good time, and it was great to emerge into this great Hawaiian surfing culture where everything begun!
This is such a hard question to answer. Most of the places I named I scored some amazing waves! But if I have to pick only one, I would definitely say the Mentawais!
Because there are so many waves within a very close distance and so many options, depending on the swell and the wind directions you 'll always find a spot with some amazing waves! No matter what the tide is doing, you can literally surf somewhere any time of the day! It's like a massive playground with waves ranging from playful fun waves to super heavy and challenging waves and barrels, left and rights! The water is bath tub warm and turquoise blue crystal clear, and when you surf you can see the colourful fishes on the reef, it's just beautiful, a true surfer's paradise! And there are literally thousands of palm trees, everything is so colourful and perfect, I was stoked the whole day long! You can surf the whole day there! And the beauty is that you can just jump in the boat and round the corner it's pumping! Even the 'bad' days are still super fun, it's just too good to be true!!
It normally seems like you have to be from Australia or Hawaii (or at least somewhere with a coast) to become well known in surfing but you're from Switzerland- how did you get into surfing in the first place?
I grew up with skateboarding and snowboarding. I used to pop by the snow/surf shop in my town where the staff were snowboarders and surfers and they would have surf videos playing all the time. I was so fascinated by it all and really wanted to try it myself! I always loved the beach and playing in the sea, since I was two years old, I was lucky enough to spend my summer holidays by the Mediterranean sea, where my french grand parents own a holiday house. I thought of surfing a bit as snowboarding in the sea and I really loved that idea, haha! So I booked myself a place on a surf camp at the Atlantic coast and caught the surfing bug straight away! ;)
And how did it become a - or maybe even THE - major part of your live?
Snowboarding was my greatest passion, I still really love it! But growing up I had a lot of trouble with my knees, I loved sports, besides snowboarding I used to play football and basketball in a club, skateboarding etc. I think it was all a bit too much impact for my knees. It came to a point where every time I went snowboarding I had to take pain killers because I was in so much pain, it still wouldn't stop me from snowboarding because it was all I wanted to do! I really loved the fun park and jumping over kickers, and back country free riding. I love this feeling of freedom, being in the nature, and escaping from everything. I found the same in surfing and luckily it doesn't affect my knees, so that's how surfing 'replaced' snowboarding. I always loved the beach, and the whole environment and lifestyle in which surfing takes place. The ocean has always been a special place to me, it makes me feel peaceful and gives me energy!
What tips do you have for girls from other non- surfing nations who want to get into it?
If you plan to go on a surf trip, it will help and make it easier if you do some swim training and surf-related exercise to get a good level of fitness, so when you go surfing you'll last longer and it will be easier and more enjoyable! Push ups are good too and popping up to your feet on dry land to get the feel for it. Pilates is great for your core stability and Yoga can improve your strength and flexibility too. Apart from that, always start learning on a board that is suitable to your ability. If you're at the very beginning use a beginners board, a spongy mini malibu, a board that is about 8ft long with enough volume. This will make it easier to catch waves and help your balance! It helps to get a lesson or two to start to get your basics right and so you don't get into wrong habits, it can speed up your learning curve, and then take it from there! And most important is to have fun! :) Skateboarding, snowboarding and indo board all help with the balance too.
How did you become so successful despite your 'mountain heritage'?
I think I'm a determined and passionate individual, when I've got something in my head that's it and I will go for it no matter what! I'm really lucky that some brands recogniced that and wanted to work with me and support me in what I'm doing! Without them this wouldn't have been possible. I would like to thank my sponsors O'Neill, Kaenon polarized and Surftech Surfboards for supporting me!
You said you come from skating and snowboarding. Are you still into that too?
Since I surf on a professional level, I haven't been skateboarding and snowboarding very much anymore. The risk of injuring in these sports is quite high, so I can't compromise surfing for it! Winter is the time where I go abroad for a few months for surf training and shootings, I'm always tempted to go snowboarding before leaving but I can't jeopardize my season. But I try every year to go anyways, usually after the season for a week or two if there is still good snow!
I've seen you in the current SAS campaign. How are you involved with them?
Surfers Against Sewage have done so much to help clean up our beaches and seas, I don't do that much but I do my bit, I think everyone who surfs or uses the ocean should be committed in this way. I had the opportunity to work with Surfers Against Sewage on their latest awareness campaign, I was dressed from head to tow in all sorts of beach litter it was a great laugh and the images are very thought provoking and striking.
Have you always been aware of eco issues?
I grew up in Switzerland where everyone recycles everything! I was part of the scouts too and we would go camping in the mountains, and spend a lot of time outdoors. So I learned from a young age how important it is to not litter and look after the environment. I've always been an outdoors person and love nature so eco issues have always interested me. Through surfing you learn about other eco issues and aspects. I was aware of ocean related eco issues before surfing but when you're active in the sea you live in the issues.
It upsets me seeing litter and pollution on beaches and in the sea. I always pick up rubbish from the beach when I see some on my way back from the surf. Sea animals and birds can get ill or die from eating litter or getting entangled in it, so every little thing helps! I support the Surfers Against Sewage because they are making sure that our waters here in the UK are safe and they are doing a great job! I've also been doing some work with the National Trust and Robyn Davies, she's great and has helped the National Trust build a surf team. I'm happy to be part of that, I surf on beautiful Cornish beaches everyday and most of it is kept by the National Trust so it feels nice to be helping out!
What's up next for you?
This Saturday I'm going to Switzerland for my nephews christening and my grandma's 90th birthday party, catching up with my family and friends, so really excited for all that! Then I'm off to France for surf training and shoots. And after that I will compete in the Swiss Surfing Championships which are held in mid of September in the Basque Country and in the Eurosurf in Ireland at the end of September. I can't wait for Ireland! The waves are amazing, the people are really lovely there and I don't mind a pint of Guinness once in a while haha!
What other plans or goals do you have for the future? Professionally as well as personally?
I would love to travel to the French Polynesian islands, the waves are amazing and I love the culture! I love surfing, travelling and going on shoots and I would love to continue as long as possible! I don't plan too much into the future, most of the time it comes different anyways! I'm a spontaneous and open minded person and I like to keep my options open, that makes life interesting and exciting to me! I would love to have kids one day but that can wait for a few years, the thought of not being able to surf for 9 months or so is just impossible haha!