Morgan Just Wins In France
By Aaron Peluso
The first trans-continental UST competition went down over the course of the last week in Seignosse, France.
I have been attending skimboarding competitions for more than 25 years now and I can say without a doubt that this event has opened up a door for skimboarding’s future. More than any skimboarding competition I have ever attended, this event was a full on skimboarding adventure. New places, new people and new friends made for a truly historic trip.
But it was not all so easy to plan. American skimboarders are usually surprised to learn that tides in this region of Europe swing about 17 feet. The weather changes hourly. The sand changes daily. Planning a skimboarding event with these kinds of challenges is no easy feat. Luckily, skimboarding had two ace’s up its sleeve for this years’ France contest. Our first ace was contest organizer Herve Le Doux. Doud (as he is commonly called) put everything he had into making this inaugural UST event everything it was. Free beer at welcome party? Check. Free breakfast each morning? Check. Free Lunch every day? Check. Free water, red bull and even beer on the beach each day? Check Check and Check. All of this would be impressive for any UST event, but this was not your normal 2 day weekend event. This was a full 6 day waiting period event, the first true waiting period competition in UST history. Rain or shine, skim or not, Doud kept the smiles flowing the entire time with a whole lot of hard work, solid planning, and I am sure money spent out of pocket.
The waiting period proved to be skimboarding’s second ace up its sleeve. Day one of the waiting period was met with a solid 20’ swell. Hossegor was doing its best Waimea impression complete with tow-ins on quadruple overhead bombs. The skim was all but non-existent and the beach was flat from the massive swell. The swell would last through Wed so the contest was postponed until Thursday morning. That was no problem at all as light offshores, sunny skies and a solid swell meant everyone could drive down to San Sebastian and enjoy a particularly special right hand sider set amongst buildings dating back to the Middle Ages. And that’s exactly what everyone did for the next two days scoring barrels and memories that will last a lifetime.
Come Wed the swell was starting to taper down and the weather had turned a little sour, with thick clouds and a slight onshore wind putting a damper on the mood. There were still no waves that I could see. We were eating a late breakfast watching the surf when we got a call from Doud at nearly dead low tide. Apparently there was some skim going on a mile up the coast. We arrived on the beach where a local TV crew was filming French rider Axel Cristol with only Doud on the beach watching. The waves looked horrible for skim. We went down, took a seat and waited a few minutes. Sure enough, from out of nowhere waist high liners that almost looked like siders started coming in down the beach. It was truly rippable. A few more riders jumped in and made a good session out of what could have been really contestable waves.
The next morning the competitors awoke to sunny skies and light offshores. Unfortunately the high tide was making an insanely unrideable trough out of the waves that made it to shore. The heats would run as the tide fell and we all had our fingers crossed that the skim would improve. Unfortunately the first round of pro heats did its best impression of flat low tide Vilano. There were a couple waves to trick off, but it was very far from epic. At the time us Americans feared that the waves for the rest of the contest would look like this. Thankfully, the conditions in Seignosse are constantly changing.
After the first rounds there was a break for lunch. That meant that the contest organizers cooked us all free lunch. Not just competitors, everyone. No tickets, no hassle… just get in line and receive a freshly cooked baguette hamburger some chips and a drink. Pretty epic. What’s even more epic is that after lunch 100m down the beach there was shoulder high skim coming in with the rising tide. And so the second round of pros ran in shifty, but definitely rippable skim. While this was happening the weather changed from “sunny skies” to full on Cabo style scorcher heat. I am not sure how hot it was, but it was very very nice out. After the second round of heats the pros decided not to skim again as the tide was getting higher. Some of the pros left for the day while others hung out for a bit. Within an hour or two Sam Stinnett noticed that a few of these high tide trough monsters were looking makeable and grabbed his board. Ten minutes and three barrels later, Brad Domke, Axel Cristol and a few others joined in to skim what had become totally Cabo-esque skim conditions. Powerful barreling waves, light offshores, and 100+ degree weather, what else could a skimboarder ask for?
While I was photographing this session I spoke with a few of the elder French skimboarders about the conditions for the following day. Bear in mind that I had already “checked the weather” which predicted sunny skies throughout the weekend. Talking to locals Olivier Harrault and Doud however, they seemed quite confident that the next day the wind would be onshore and that the pro heats would be off and that the only opportunity for good skim was Sat morning. It was amusing to watch these guys debate the matter with some of the younger French skimboarders who seemed to think that tomorrow it could be good. This being my second trip to France, I knew from experience that Doud and Olivier knew exactly what they were talking about when it came to predicting the skim conditions. However, looking at some of the best waves I had seen in Europe to date, it was hard to believe that the following morning could be so bad.
I awoke the next morning to sunny skies and dead calm wind conditions. I thought to myself that the young French skimmers may have called it correctly. As I walked over the dune I expected to see something much like yesterday morning, ‘maybe even a little better’. And just as I finished that thought I was blasted with a cold gust of onshore wind and the sad visual of whitecaps at sea. It looked absolutely nothing like the day before. It looked like crap. I smiled to myself and continued down to grab myself a free chocolate croissant and say bonjour to some friends.
The decision was made to delay the pros until Sat morning, the last day of the waiting period. The weather report said it would be worse on Saturday as I read it, but by this point I put my complete trust in the locals. I have never been so baffled trying to predict good skim conditions as I have been in France. Some of the pros and ams took turns winching into some waves on Friday before calling it a day.
On Saturday the skies were overcast early on. But that was ok, because the onshore wind has subsided and it was now dead calm. The waves were good size with minimal trough and all in all this was looking like the best contest conditions yet. The pro quarterfinals were scheduled to start as soon as the tide was low enough and run back to back until finished. There was no time to wait for the rising tide according to Doud, as the wind was supposed to pick up in a few hours. I have never seen a wind forecast that is truly accurate to the hour, but again, all faith in Doud…
As in most contests the quarter finals are where things really start to get interesting. This quarter final was more interesting than most as it was the first time that so many of the top riders from the United States, France and Portugal faced off in competition, ever. Many could have predicted which riders would make it into the top 12, there were no big surprises at least.
In the first quarter final Sam Stinnett faced off against two French brothers Matthieu and Nicolas Thibaud (Nicolas is Matthieu’s older brother). Everyone skimmed solid but in the end it was Sam and older brother Nicolas who made it through heat one.
In the second heat there were two Americans (Domke and Jason Wilson) squaring off against one of France’s best riders, Olivier Chabert. This heat was even closer but in the end Olivier just couldn’t find the high scoring waves he needed to best the Americans.
The third heat was all European with Portugal’s Hugo Santos and Simao Pinto squaring off against Axel Cristol. Hugo is essentially the Bill Bryan of Europe, winning more events than anyone else in a skim career measured in decades, not years. Simao and Axel are both perhaps the top young riders from their respective countries. The home field advantage appeared to be strongly in Axel’s favor during this heat as he was able to find big scoring waves that Hugo and Simao were missing. Simao, who had been a standout on Thursday, fell by the wayside and Hugo was able to find the waves he needed to make the heat.
The next heat had Americans Morgan Just and Jake Stinnett squared off against Portugal’s Mega man (Emmanuel Embaixador). Both Morgan and Mega set a pace in this heat that Jake could not keep up with, finding waves where there were none and really putting on a show. Jake skimmed well, and might have made it through in a different heat. But not in this one.
This brought the finals eight down to four Americans, two Portuguese and two Frenchmen. UST top contenders Sam Stinnett and Brad Domke were placed in heat one versus Portugal’s Mega and Hugo Santos. Hugo and Mega seemed to struggle to find the waves in this heat while Domke and Sam seemed like they were tuned in to everything mother nature was throwing at the beach. This was particularly strange to watch in the case of Mega as he had just run a few minutes prior and was killing it. If he would have just been able to do as well as he did in his quarter final he could have made it easily, but this was a different heat and it had a whole different result. In the end, Brad and Sam moved on setting the stage for an all-out rematch in 2012 I am sure!
In heat two of the semis it was France vs the USA. This heat appeared to be a little closer in this observers opinion with lots of good waves being caught by all the riders. Morgan appeared to be a standout but the battle for second seemed wide open. Anticipation was high as results were tallied to see if a Frenchman would make it to the final of the first French UST event. Accordingly, the disappointment was high as Jason Wilson sneaked by to form and all American final at the first European UST event.
The top five waves counted in what has to be the longest final I have ever seen. I am not sure how long it was exactly. All I know if that when I thought the heat must be half over they called out that 12 minutes were left. This was a good thing as it allowed the competitors plenty of time to get some real waves in the quickly changing conditions (the tide was dropping out at about 1 foot every 20 minutes). Jason Wilson didn’t get a lot of waves but the few he did get seemed to be really solid. Domke seemed like he had a few more counting waves but most involved highly technical riding and it was unknown how it would score. Sam was all over the beach getting good rides but had wasn’t able to match the wave selection of his prior heats and was struggling to find the really high scoring wave he needed. Morgan Just made the most of the time skimming the best well rounded heat with plenty of waves in both directions, and as such he deservingly walked away with the win at the first ever European UST event.
The finals for the amateurs followed after the pros and as if on cue the breeze began to within minutes of the event coming to a close. By afternoon it was completely un-contestable again.
The results were announced in the evening at and after party which included free drinks and dinner for the competitors. If there is one thing that was truly epic about this event it was just being there to witness the awards ceremony. First of all, everyone in France is a winner. The awards for a division start with last place, and then work their way all the way to first. The person comes up, receives their prize and basically enters a contest to share the most stoke with the audience possible for the next 10 – 60 seconds. This started rather innocuously with the women. There was singing of the national anthem (I think?) by the crowd while Doud’s wife stood at attention with her hand over her heart. There was the leading of French songs of a very “French” nature on stage while the crowd stomped their feet to the beat, nearly tearing apart the wood deck in the process. And then when the Am’s came up there was the crowd surfing. Yes, come up on stage in France to get your prize and 9 times out of 10 you are leaving via ‘crowd surf’. It was all pretty epic with smiles all around, and that’s when the French turned it up a notch. It all started with the announcing of an amateur Frenchman. I don’t know his name but when it was called it seemed at first as though he wasn’t present, a common occurrence at US contests. But off in the distance we heard screaming and shouting and turned to see four Frenchmen carrying the competitor shirtless from the parking lot screaming as if he had just won the world cup. This Frenchman went into crowdsurf on his way TO the stage and in the process somehow lost his pants and arrived on stage totally naked. He accepted his prize and went right back into naked crowdsurf mode on the way out. This started an round of one upsmanship amongst the French riders continuing all the way through the pros where nudity was not something to be ashamed of, and crowdsurfing is a god given right. In all I think the awards must have lasted nearly two hours, and I wasn’t bored once. The stage was set for an epic afterparty that has been called the best ever by many of the US pros.
Hats off to Doud and the French contest organizers for putting together such a seamless event and welcoming travelling skimboarders with open arms.
1 MORGAN JUST USA
2 SAM STINNET USA
3 BRADLEY DOMKE USA
4 JASON WILSON USA
5 AXEL CRISTOL FRANCE
6 NICOLAS THIBAUD FRANCE
7 HUGO SANTOS PORTUGAL
8 EMMANUEL EMBAIXADOR PORTUGAL
9 MATTHIEU THIBAUD FRANCE
10 JAKE STINNET USA
11 OLIVIER CHABERT FRANCE
12 SIMAO PINTO PORTUGAL
13 TRISTAN LAMY FRANCE
14 MARCOS CASTELUBER BRAZIL
15 CLEMENT ELLISALDE FRANCE
16 MAXIME VIMOND FRANCE
17 NICOLAS BERNARD FRANCE
18 ALEX MARRETTE FRANCE
19 FLORENT MOURONVAL FRANCE
20 GUILLAUME DETANT FRANCE
21 MARTIS AVILES SPAIN
22 ANTONIN LANGEARD FRANCE
23 JOHAN VIE FRANCE
24 BENOIT DESPLEBIN FRANCE
25 REGIS FRACHON FRANCE
26 GARRIDO MARC FRANCE
26 DAN HORAN GB
More Pics and coverage in Portuguese available at SkimBrazil.com