Jérémy Florès – « The Bottom of the wave »
I discovered that you can drown outside of water.
If I remember correctly, I was 24 years old. It was in my adopted home of Landes, in Hossegor.
I never denied having a very strong character, but that day, the guy who came out of the water insulting everyone, judges and ordinary spectators, I didn’t feel like I knew him. And yet: it was me.
Since I was a kid, I’ve been afraid to disappoint. This may be the beginning of the explanation. My parents – we’ll come back to this later – did everything they could to make sure that I could hold on to my dreams. The sponsors quickly put a lot of money on me, while the press quickly dubbed me as “the next Kelly Slater”. And I, in the midst of all these expectations, after a setback on the board, I didn’t know where to go. I was falling.
I completely lost it, as following the next competition and another sporting setback, I came out of the water whilst giving the finger and shouting insults, as if to express an uncontrollable anger that I had in me. I understood that something was not right. I was overwhelmed by unpleasant feelings, a form of paranoia, an impression of discomfort, of unease.
“Everyone is against me. Everyone uses me. Some don’t want me to win, others are there only for their own interests”.
It was the kind of thought that roamed my mind, worn out by the pressure of brands, the media and more simply professional sport.
Taking a deep breath, without however succeeding in dispelling the darkness that hovered above my head, I spat out all the frustrations stored by years of blind devotion to my passion.
– I tell myself that at 24, I barely know my little sister.
– I tell myself that I no longer have anything to talk about with my parents except surfing.
– I tell myself I’ve lost sight of my childhood friends.
– I tell myself I hate surfing. That it’s shit.
Believe me, the day you start hating what you’ve always loved, you feel bad.
I became depressed. I couldn’t sleep at night. I was there, thinking back, my eyes wide open, staring at my ceiling as if it was going to answer something. For years, I slept very little or badly, and at one point I was taking pills to get some sleep. And of course, I didn’t want anything to show.
At that time, on the Tour, I was a bit of a big-mouth, with a strong character. Despite my small size, I was a little imposing, so instinctively, I thought that I shouldn’t let this weakness exist.
So I didn’t say much about it. I saw psychologists. I was advised to try that. I actually saw several of them, because I couldn’t open up. I have trouble trusting people. It’s not their fault. It’s like that, it just didn’t work.
Then I finally picked myself up again. In particular, by returning to the source. The origin.
I was born in Reunion. I grew up there until I was 7 years old, the time my parents chose to discover new horizons.
My mother is from Madagascar. With my father, they decided to come and live there with the idea that our life would be better there. They found a managerial position in a small hotel in the south of the island, in a village called “Ifaty”. I remember it as if it was yesterday.
In front of the hotel, there was a small surf spot, except that at that time, in Madagascar, surfing did not really exist, or just marginally, to the rhythm of the comings and goings of South African sailboats.
You may be wondering what Ifaty looks like.
It’s a village of 500 or 600 souls, full of personality. We lived in a small villa, located in the hotel where my parents worked. I never starved, far from it, but it should be said that at the time, Madagascar was the third poorest country in the world. The environment in which I grew up was very simple: I went fishing, I ate what I had caught and most of the time, I managed on my own because my parents were working.
In my father’s spare time, a few young people from the village were taught to surf. It was cool, thanks to that, I was able to have surfing buddies in the waves every day. I will never forget it. It was my daily life: surfing – fishing – surfing.
From time to time, this magnificent routine was upended by the arrival of visiting teachers, who would arrive in Ifaty to give a few lessons. It made us feel good. We would all go into a straw tent and stay there for an hour or two, learning loads of things before going back into the waves.
It was great because since I left Reunion, I haven’t been to school. My mother helped me with all the basic stuff, but the feeling of learning and sharing with these travelling teachers was delightful.
So that was my daily life. That’s how I grew up. When I think about it, I realise that it wasn’t common. But I was fine, at peace, making a little pocket money by selling the little wooden boards I carved or the big shells I found at the bottom of the sea to tourists on the road.
At that time, we didn’t have TV channels, but we had a VCR in which two tapes were played on a loop: Kelly Slater – Black & White and Tom Curren, The Search. That’s all I’ve been looking at since my surfer-dad introduced me to Reunion.
According to him, who had had the opportunity to travel a few times to Hawaii or metropolitan France, and who had a general understanding of what the international level was, I was good. Enough for him and my mother to save a little money to allow me, at the age of 9, to go to Capbreton to compete in a youth competition. For me, who spent my days telling my father that I wanted to live off my passion, it was a first step.
But it took on proportions I didn’t really expect.
On that day, I was good. Good enough to win. Good enough to catch the eye of Pierre Agnès, who represented Quiksilver at the time. At 11, I went from a kid catching fish in a village of 500 people, to travelling all over the world with Kelly Slatter or Tom Carroll, on surfing trips to Indonesia, Hawaii and Australia. It was amazing. It was a dream. I was so excited.
At first, I missed my parents a lot. My childhood friends too.
I cried almost all the time. But as soon as I got to surf spots, it would pass.
For the legends that surrounded me, I was a kind of mascot. All the guys I used to travel with took me under their wing. The French of the time, Mikaël Picon and Fred Robin, were like big brothers to me. I was always travelling with guys older than me. I think it made me grow at an accelerated rate… On all levels!
You can imagine that most of these guys’ topics of conversation were not necessarily those that a kid my age would have had in school. They were talking about girls, parties. I was 12-13 years old and I wanted to try to pick up chicks like them. In fairness, I was young!
But the truth is, I was in the water all the time. A bloody passionate guy. Even today, some of them still tell me: I wanted to know everything. Everything. I was asking questions about equipment, careers, food. A real pain in the ass who was eager to learn.
But the passage of time dissipated my excitement. I was so focused on winning and success that nothing else existed. Ifaty’s smiling and warm child had become an ice cube. Even the feelings I had were beginning to evaporate as I was so deeply involved in what I wanted to become. I was just a kid, yet after a while, the lack of my parents, my friends, my home, didn’t make me feel anything. My goal was just to be the best surfer I could be and to get to the top level quickly.
Looking back, I think it’s very strange. But at the time, I didn’t realise it.
Especially since everything went very fast. At 17, I became the youngest surfer to qualify for the World Tour. Time went by without me even noticing until the event I told you about in Hossegor. There were some extraordinary moments, but not a normal adolescence. No teenage years at all, actually. Year after year, in search of the goal that has defined my life since I was 9 years old, I had lost my raison d’être.
Then adult Jeremy, at 24 years old, returned to Reunion. I went back to Madagascar. I came back to the base. I come from there. I didn’t have much. I had to put it in perspective, to come back down to earth.
I thought to myself, “wow, that’s what surfing is all about, that’s why I was doing it”.
In fact, when I hated my passion, what I rejected was competition, the industry. I took the trouble to make trips completely out of the sports calendar, just for the fun of it.
I thought to myself, “Dude, you have a crazy life.”
It took time, but it worked. Basically, this paranoid little side, a depressive background, remained, but it calmed down. I think there was a time when I suffered from not having a childhood. But today, I think back to what my father used to say to me: “If you succeed in your life early, you will be able to stop early”.
At 31, I question myself. Not because I hate surfing but because I am a simple person and I have done enough to live simply. I realise that not everyone can say that to each other at 31 years of age, but I think that all the sacrifices I have made to get to where I am today mean that now I have a solid foundation to enjoy life.
I see myself enjoying myself all the more because I had another difficult period around the age of 28.
I remember going to my sponsors and telling them that I felt like I was off form and needed a break. But after a discussion with my sponsors, I thought about it, I remembered where I came from, and then I got back on the horse.
If the lows were very low, I also really enjoyed the highs.
Especially since I have always worked with a certain logic. Between the obvious and necessary individualism due to the fact that you are alone on a board, and the team spirit created by the encounters that have punctuated my career.
I was proud of myself, but what I realised, I also did it to pay back all the people who gave me a hand and bet on me since I was a child.
For now, I’ve taken a step back, life is not perfect. It’s true that until the moment I write this little piece for you, all of this leaves a mark.
My real breath of fresh air came a year and a half ago. I became a father. Just two years ago, before my girlfriend got pregnant, surfing was my 200% priority..
Since the birth of my little wonder, she has been the priority and my sport is secondary.
I feel like I’m in a moment in my life when everything is much more relaxed.
A new, more peaceful chapter, where I want to surf until I’m 70.
A chapter with a more relaxed relationship between performance and competition. A chapter written hand in hand with my daughter, with whom I want to enjoy childhood.
Because today, I realised just how important that is.
French professional surfer
Winner of the Quiksilver Pro France
Winner of the Billabong Pipe Masters
Winner of Billabong Pro Tahiti
Winner of the Billabong Pipe Masters
ISA World Champion
Rookie of the year
QS World Champion