The shot nearly didn’t make it.
The image of Justine Dupont driving through the inside bowl at Peahi arrived the night before Surfing World was due to print. Photographer, Fred Pompermayer had shot it that day. Within a minute of opening the file it was clear what needed to be done. The original cover we’d designed over the course eight weeks, twisting ourselves in knots over every small detail, was junked immediately. Allez Justine.
In many ways it was the easiest decision a surf mag has ever made. It was clear immediately that at some point in the future, that image would mark a point in time. The fact the surfer driving through the biggest tube of the Northern Hemisphere winter was a woman was seismic. All we had to do was run it on the cover and get out of the way. We seasoned it with a little coverline sarcasm – “girls can’t surf” – and sent it to print.
The eleventh-hour swap however meant we never got to speak with Justine before the mag printed. We called her the week after the magazine was out. By then the Frenchwoman’s phone had been running white hot with messages from friends and strangers alike, congratulating her on the wave. Justine was in Nazaré, Portugal at the time. The northern winter was coming to a close and she was just starting to understand the gravity of what she’d done, not just her Peahi wave, but her whole season.
Justine describes her winter as “lucky”, in a right place, right time kind of way. With boyfriend Fred David, she’d planned to chase what she calls, “the Big Three” – Nazaré, Mavericks and Peahi. “In the back of my mind I wanted to score those three but we made good choices. All the time. It was about choice.”
Scoring marquee days at each of the Big Three indeed took some skill, especially in the middle of a global pandemic. But there was nothing lucky about her surfing. Justine spent the whole winter – and a decade of winters before that – preparing for those waves.
Being there for the swell was one thing, finding her waves amongst the pack – exclusively male, exclusively alpha – was another. “The first wave that I got at Mavericks was with Twiggy [Baker]. He said to me, ‘Go on my wave. If I go, you go.’ It was like 30 minutes without a wave and I remember thinking, I don’t want to burn him. He’s waited so long. The wave came and he’s yelling, ‘Go! Go Justine!’ So I was like, okay, but then as we’re paddling he goes, ‘I’ll be behind you, so don’t fall!’ I’m like, oh my god, I can’t fall here. We did a little airdrop on take-off but we both made it, so it was cool.” At each location she towed with heavyweights; Garrett McNamara at Nazaré, Jeff Clark at Mavericks and Michel Larronde at Peahi.
Justine chased swells for four long months. “All the time after the trip we’re like, we’re done. We need to rest for at least one week. But then after two or three days we’re looking at the forecast and there’s another swell and we’re looking at each other with a little smile. ‘I guess we go again, huh?’ It was like this all winter. Nazaré goes to Mavericks goes to Jaws. We were like okay, now the Atlantic is done. Let’s go to the Pacific. The body wants to rest but the mind, you know, it always wants more.”
The Peahi barrel was the denouement of a three-month big-wave burner that not only positioned Justine as the world’s premier female big-wave heroine, but a woman representing something bigger. A woman in a world of Big-Wave Daves. Justine however doesn’t really see either of those. “Everybody send me a message and it was something to be proud of. So many people are speaking about the fact it was a woman and everything, but I was more seeing it as a human with a goal, a human with a dream. If you want to do something, go for it. You know, everybody has got their own skills and you can play with them and improve the skills that you’ve got.” There was no equality crusade driving her. Big-wave surfers are lone wolves. Their challenges lie within.
But as dedicated to her surfing as she’s been, she also knows that once the day arrives and you’re out there, there’s an element of fate involved and maybe that day at Peahi was indeed fated. “We can push the limits and improve, but what’s magic about big-wave surfing is that you just never know. One day the wave just comes to you and you make the best of it. You can be a kid, a woman, a boy, a man. It doesn’t matter. It makes no difference. In the end the wave decides. You just have to be ready when it does.” – Sean Doherty