Only one more day to go until the second edition of the Swatch Girls Pro kicks off in the South of France! To get you in the right mood, we not only have the teaser for you to watch, but also the article on the inaugural event last year we featured in Cooler issue 26.
Almost all the big names in women’s surfing were there, from Steph Gilmore and Alana Blanchard to Sally Fitzgibbons and Coco Ho. They didn’t want to miss the inaugural WQS 6-Star Swatch Girls Pro on the French Atlantic Coast. Unfortunately a stubborn low pressure system had the same idea…
Words by Melanie Schönthier
The low arrives from the same direction as the airplane, which carries Steph Gilmore and Coco Ho. As the cold air and heavy rain hit the French Atlantic Coast, the two pro surfers are waiting for their luggage at Biarritz airport. In California, where their trip started just 20 hours ago, the sun was shining but somewhere over the Atlantic they must have met this low, which is welcoming them with wind and raindrops outside the airport.
May 12, 8 am: I’m standing at Les Bourdaines in Seignosse, trying to ignore the chilly 10 degrees with a cup of hot coffee. The waves are looking chaotic and mushy. The low has settled in and made itself comfortable. Coco Ho and Steph Gilmore are sitting next to me, braving the bad weather with puffy down jackets. “At home I mostly surf in a bikini and here the water temperature is 14 degrees,” says Coco laughing. “In conditions like this it’s sometimes pretty hard to motivate yourself to go surfing. Then I have to remind myself that I have the best job in the world!” The 19-year old is one of the most talented surfers out there right now. On her first year on the ASP Women’s World Tour she finished fourth, and landed the title Rookie of the Year. But the best job of the world can sometimes be hard work. It’s still raining when Coco puts on her thick wetsuit and gets ready for her first heat – the Swatch Girls Pro has begun.
When Julie Audibert tells me that she only had two months to organise the whole event, I can barely believe it. A huge village of tents rises out of the sand, with offices, TV rooms, catering and a spectators’ area. The French girl pays attention to details: on the way to the beach the pro surfers are running over a red carpet, small palm trees are lining the contest area and even the bean bags match the colours of the whole set up. “It’s the first event I’ve organised and I wanted it to be perfect”, says Julie, who was working as the ASP Europe Manager until recently but quit her job to do more for the sport. “There hadn’t been any big women’s contest in France for years. I wanted to change that and the Swatch Girls Pro is the first step in the right direction.” The event is part of the World Qualifying Series (WQS). The best seventeen girls enter the World Tour, which as ever is dominated by Steph Gilmore. The 22-year old Australian has claimed the world title three times in a row and already won three of eight events this year. But despite her dominant lead she still wanted to compete in the Swatch Girls Pro. “It is hard work with these [WQS] events because you have to surf more times and there are more girls in the water but it is good training as I see how the new generation surfs and what I have to expect on the future World Tour,” she explains. For today, Steph can’t prove her skills as the wind is getting stronger and the contest is put on hold until tomorrow.
May 13, 9 am: Déjà vu as again, I’m standing at the beach with a cup of hot coffee. The icy wind is still going strong and the low did a pretty good job over night, rendering the waves small and outblown. Despite the cold, the vibe is all positive. The girls are talking about the delicious food and the funny party at the bar “Le Surfing” last night.
Lee-Ann Curren stands a bit to the side and looks out on the ocean. “It is such a shame that the conditions are so bad right now.” Yesterday she was paddling out into the line up with three other contestants when her heat was called off at the last second and put on hold for today. For the young French girl, daughter of three-times world champion Tom Curren, it is her first year on the Women´s World Tour and she is stoked to be part of the only big girls’ surf event in her home country. “At mixed contests they normally send out the boys in good conditions and we have to take what’s left over when they’re done. It’s a great feeling to get all the attention for ourselves and be able to surf when it is good“, she says. Unfortunately the contest is getting cancelled for the day a few minutes later and her heat is once again on hold.
May 16, 15.20 pm: Steph Gilmore leaves the water with a big smile. A few friends put the Australian on their shoulders but after a few metres she loses her balance and falls into the sand head-first. She laughs, stands up again and takes her place on the podium – Steph Gilmore is the well-deserved winner of the inaugural Swatch Girls Pro.
Only once was it a close call, in the semi-finals where rookie Laura Enever was leading until the very last minute. The conditions were so chaotic with head-high waves and strong onshore, that catching a good wave was a pure gamble. Nobody believed the world champion would make it but then she scored this one wave, 30 seconds before the heat was over. Anyone who has ever seen Steph Gilmore surfing, knows why she’s a three-times world champion. Powerful turns and nobody carves higher into the lip of the wave. It’s aggressive and beautiful at the same time. “That was hard work,” she says and smiles. “The young girls coming through at the moment are really full on and I didn’t think I was going to make it through that heat against Laura but that makes it all the more rewarding.”
Coco Ho is another of these young girls that are part of surfing’s next generation. She had to face Steph in the final and now leaves the water defeated but with a big smile. The young Hawaiian showed a strong performance throughout the whole event, surfed one of the highest judged waves of the contest and is over the top with her second place. “The conditions were so difficult over the last few days and I’m just stoked that I’ve made it into the final.”
Five days of Swatch Girls Pro have come to an end. Five days of some of the world’s best surfers, exciting surf action, French savoir-vivre and banging parties. Rain, wind and bad waves couldn’t spoil this unique event, and the girls are already looking forward to the return next year. “If only for these delicious croissants!” third-placed Jessi Miley-Dyer laughs.
When Steph Gilmore and Coco Ho board the airplane the next day, the temperatures are starting to rise again and the sun is coming back. See you next year, but hopefully without this stubborn low!