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Beach Grit

reminder: Jeremy is Awesome!

Derek Rielly

by Derek Rielly

He might've spiced up the judging tower at J-Bay but as this interview reminds us, he still deserves your attention…

The first thing you need to know about Jeremy is that he came from nothing. Grew up in one of the poorest islands on earth, only to become Quiksilver’s Great Investment when he was 11. The Next Slater. Even Kelly said so. But life doesn’t always follow the screenplay.

Jeremy was born in Reunion Island but was moved to dirt-poor Madagascar (where the majority live on under a buck a day) when he was five just so his family could get a foothold on life. His parents managed the hotel Le Lakana Vezo while he roamed the fishing village, surfing when he could, without the interruption of school. There was one television at the hotel and one surfing VHS cassette, Searching for Tom Curren. Jeremy watched it every day for four years. The only surfing he saw was his Dad and random fishermen sliding into a few after work.

His Dad knew the kid was something special and so the family saved and they saved and when the kid was nine he was sent, alone, to France to compete in the Quiksilver World Pro Juniors there. Jeremy won the under 12s and he won the under 14s. Quiksilver signed him on the spot.

“But they were smart,” says Jeremy.

They didn’t throw a ton of cash directly at him but made sure he stayed close to his family and sent him to live and train for six months of the year in Australia and six months in France. And the kid won everything for years. When he turned 16 he went straight on the QS and won it. First year. By 17 he was on the World Tour. And now, 26-and-a-half, he’s on his eighth year on tour. A veteran. But so young! And so prone to bursts of passion!

When Jeremy isn’t  on tour he visits his parents who now live in New Caledonia or, if you prefer, the much sexier La Nouvelle-Calédonie. His ma deals with all the “paper shit and travel shit” of his career and, on the other side of the world, Jeremy maintains a warehouse called the Fantasy Factory, part living studio, part gym, part skate ramp and foam pit. “It gives all the French kids something to do in winter apart from doing drugs,” says Jeremy. When the tour comes to town, everyone wants a piece, especially skate animals like John John.

You won’t see Jeremy in Tahiti. He was suspended for two events (the US Open and the Billabong Pro) and fined $US6000 for expressing his displeasure at a judging decision at J-Bay. This interview was recorded prior to J-Bay (and previously appeared in an issue of Stab magazine…)

BEACHGRIT: When you came out of that PR diz in 2011 (fighting at Burleigh, the Sterling Spencer gag) and threw yourself at big Teahupoo our gourds overflowed with respect! Who would’ve thought the little kid from some godforsaken Indian Ocean would ever come to something!

JEREMY: Oh shit! Thanks! Is there anything you wanna talk about in this interview, specifically?

BEACHGRIT: Not really. I wanna throw a few lines, see what bites I get… you’re such a fun passionate guy! And you love to party!

JEREMY: Yeah! Yeah! I was so focussed for so many years from winning the juniors to winning the QS to being on tour that the last, let’s say two years, I kinda just burned out. I always liked to party but the last couple of years I went a bit too…big. Now I’m in a transition. I’m trying to get my shit together.

BEACHGRIT: What I enjoy is your generosity. When you go out, you ain’t afraid to unstrap your purse…

JEREMY: When I won the Pipe  Masters I partied for two years. People would see me and they’d say, “Fuck, every time I see you out it seems like you’re celebrating something.” And, I’m, like, “Fuck yeah! I’m still celebrating the Pipe Masters two years ago!”

BEACHGRIT: Have you ever been to St Tropez? That town likes to party.

JEREMY: It’s a different vibe, but I definitely wanna go.

BEACHGRIT: Oh, you would lose it. I remember walking over the sand dunes, middle of the day, into a viper’s nest of pounding bass and dancing gals in bikinis and men with cigars and dark glasses watching… Erotic but a little sinister!

JEREMY: Ha! I went to Barcelona this year and it was one of the best place I’ve ever been to for partying. Oh yeah. Amazing. Clubs. Bars. Mostly students. So it’s a young vibe and every…night… every…day. Partying. Hot weather. Open-minded people.

BEACHGRIT: If Barcelona is one of the best, what’s the best?

JEREMY: Panama. It’s the capital of Central America so it’s where all the big clubs are, it’s where all the big-time people go to party. It’s unbelievable.

BEACHGRIT: How pretty are the gals? Dusky as hell?

JEREMY: Amazing. Amazing. Latina, you know the kind. But I always had my girlfriend so I had my limits.

BEACHGRIT: Are you a dance gal or a VIP room guy.

JEREMY: It depends on the vibe I’m chasing.

BEACHGRIT: Are you still with Bruna (pro surfer gal Bruna Schmitz)?

JEREMY: Uh, no… now is a kinda transition… a lot of things are changing for me. I was working with Yannick Bevan who was my training coach and mentor for so many years and I stopped working with him this year. Big changes. I’m trying to get  back to my roots. The last couple of years I wasn’t being, let’s say, a good athlete. A lot of people kinda thought I was over it and I didn’t have any motivation anymore.

BEACHGRIT: Fuck those guys! You’re like Andy Irons at Teahupoo! All guns! All fun!

JEREMY: When it’s Teahupoo and it’s perfect waves I still love it, I still love surfing, but…it’s the competing. I’ve been non-stop since I was 14 years old. Always having goals whatever I did. So. Then you’re actually on tour and after a few years you do things that you didn’t do when you were young. You go mad, you go partying, so that’s what happened. Everyone goes through that phase and I’m going through that phase now. I come from nothing. My parents had me when they were really young. They didn’t have enough money so I really had a goal, always working really hard to have the life I have now and to get my family a good life also. I did that. I was successful at doing that. Now I have a dreamy life but most importantly my family has a good life, also.

BEACHGRIT: Let’s talk about when you were 11 and just…ruling the joint.

JEREMY: When I was 11 and 12 and I was winning everything and when I was 13, 14, I was winning pretty much every event I was entering. Slater was saying stuff like I was better than him at the same age and everyone made a big deal of it. But it doesn’t mean shit. When I was around 14 I started surfing against Jordy Smith and Julian Wilson and then since then it has been a real battle.

BEACHGRIT: I wanna talk about sharks around Madagascar and Reunion. Ain’t it the craziest thing, right now. They’re almost walking up the beach and grabbing kids out of prams now. What was it like growing up, surfing alone?

JEREMY: I never saw any sharks growing up over there and there were never any attacks because there’s a lot of fishermen so the sharks were staying away, fearing the fishermen.

BEACHGRIT: Shit sure has changed.

JEREMY: Well, that’s one of the main reasons everything is happening in Reunion now. From generation to generation there were always fishermen and then people from overseas, environmentalists, came and they stopped fishing in a 10-kilometre area where all the shark attacks are now happening. That was eight years ago. By the time they stopped fishing the sharks didn’t have anything to fear anymore so they started coming and now it’s dead territory. They ate everything. There is no more life. There is no more turtles. There is no more fish. No more nothing. No more reef sharks. Because the bull sharks have eaten everything. And now, because there’s nothing left to eat, it’s the surfers.

BEACHGRIT: Bull sharks are such motherfuckers.

JEREMY: Fishermen, they don’t go to kill sharks, they go for the fish, and when sharks see a lot of fishermen, they stay away. It’s as easy as that.

BEACHGRIT: Has being a European been a hindrance, professionally?

JEREMY: When I first got on tour, it was definitely, let’s say, an Aussie/American/Hawaiian sport. It’s what I felt. A lot of things that were later proved. And not just results. Not just judging. Things in the media. When you come form a small island people don’t really care as much as if you’re an Aussie or a kid from San Clemente or Huntington. I definitely had to fight against that.

BEACHGRIT: Let me take you back to this year’s webcast at Bells. You were back in the competitor’s area waiting for the result of your heat to come through. Before it’d even come out of the lips of the commentator you’d correctly presumed the winner would be the American guy…

JEREMY: It was Nat Young. I said something like, “I bet if I had an American passport, I woulda won the heat” The last couple of years, it’s life, it’s people watching life. You go home and you go on the internet and everyone’s saying that I got robbed, that it’s bullshit. You feel it, but it gets you even more mad when you see the whole world is telling you how robbed you got. It’s the worst feeling. But, honestly, I’ve gotten used to it and now I just concentrate. I surf and I do my thing. I’ve been surfing shit the last couple of years, anyway. I can surf a lot better.

BEACHGRIT: What’s the worst decision do you think you’ve gotten?

JEREMY: It was at Teahupoo either last year or two years ago when I got beaten by Parko in the quarter-final. He needed a 9.7 and he got a 9.73 at the end. I love Parko, he’s my good friend, but that was pretty… pretty…

BEACHGRIT: What happens do you think?

JEREMY: Fuck! I don’t know! Every sport, everyone can make errors, nobody’s perfect, everyone has different options. I’ve always said what I felt. Maybe I should’ve shut my mouth a lot of time because I think the more I say things the more it came back at me. A lot of guys, when they have a big name, let’s say they have a lot of video parts, they’re in a lot of magazines, they’re the hype of the moment. And then they’re in a heat, let’s say, against a Brazilian guy who just got on tour, who rips, but nobody knows about. At the end of the heat, if the kid that has all the media attention needs a score you can be sure he’s going to get the score. That’s my opinion.

BEACHGRIT: Is it your belief the judges are swept up in the hype or is it something you believe is more sinister?

JEREMY: Maybe. Maybe they are are swept up in the hype. Most of the time the result is fair. But sometimes there is a fuck-up. And when these fuck-ups happen, it’s scandalous because it’s the world tour and it is the elite and people’s careers depend upon it.

BEACHGRIT: Let’s talk jiujitsu. You sure know your way round a mat.

JEREMY: I did a lot of jiujitsu when I was young. But not any more. I’m scared to get injured. I win money surfing not doing jiujitsu.

BEACHGRIT: What’s your money hold? Arm bar? Choke?

JEREMY: I like choking. Choking is good. I can choke a lot. Most of the time I get choked but whenever I can choke someone it’s a pretty cool feeling.

BEACHGRIT: What’s it feel like to get choked out?

JEREMY: You just kinda faint and then wake up. I’ve had a lot of ego (and therefore don’t tap out) and sometime you get choked out by someone who’s supposed to be way worse than you and it’s just how it is.

BEACHGRIT: Who would win a no-time limit UFC bout between you and Kelly?

JEREMY: Oh! Fuck! Fuck! I’m hoping to say it’s me because he’s 41 years old, right? I know Kelly is really passionate about it and he loves it but I don’t even know how good he is.

BEACHGRIT: Tell me all about your relationship with Sunny Garcia?

JEREMY: I’ve been coming to Hawaii for so many years, three or four months every year. And I got close to Sunny and his son Stone. I admire everything Sunny’s done. He never gives up. He trains like a machine. At first I was just looking up to him but then I found out what a giving guy he is. Some people might think he’s a bully but every year I was over there, for Christmas, I was by myself, he was always welcoming me to his family to spend Christmas. He didn’t have to do that.

BEACHGRIT: What misconceptions do people have about you?

JEREMY: Fuck! I think people know everything. I’ve always been honest, always said it like it is. A lot of people respect that. A lot of people don’t. So there’s always going to be people talking shit. I’ve always been true to myself and the people in my entourage and the people that believe in me. The rest, to tell you the truth, I don’t give a… I don’t really care. As long as I’m not fake. In surfing, nowadays, there’s a lot of fake-ness. So much fake. People are so fake. Most of the guys are so fake. I know it because I know all of ’em and they’re all such legends and such cool guys but then through the media you see a different person. That’s something that scares me and something I never want to do. I want to stay true. People like me and people don’t. But people see the real me.