Michel ‘Spartan’ Bourez: the Tahitian surfer with Olympic gold on his mind

The 35-year-old pro surfer will be representing France at Tokyo 2020 and talks all things teamwork, quarantining in paradise, and why a Paris 2024 event will be happening half a world away from the French capital.

By Aidan McKevitt ·

Don’t let his bright smile and laid-back attitude fool you. Michel Bourez, one of the best surfers in the world, is famous for his strong power style, relentless competitive approach, and extreme physique, all of which lead to his nickname ‘The Spartan’.

The 35-year-old is one of the three surfers who will be representing France at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021 and is a regular top 20 contender in the World Surf League (WSL) World Championship Tour.

Bourez’s story however begins in Rurutu, a tiny island of less than 2,500 in the Tuamotu Archipelago of Tahiti. At 17 he broke onto the professional surfing scene and quickly began making a name for himself, and by 2009 he had joined the World Championship Tour.

Although the past decade has been filled with world travel and fierce competition, he remains an island child at heart with a strong respect for his Tahitian roots.

“The Tahitians are super simple; we don’t need much to live," he said to the International Surfing Association. "It’s an easy life here. We love to share our food, to share our knowledge and stuff, but just not our waves you know?”

“During the day I’m more of a simple person, and easy-going person.

"But when [the competition] is on, I switch, I become someone else. It’s a fight pretty much. I’m becoming maybe like a warrior or something.

“I’m ready to go out there and do my job. I’m going to win no matter what.”

Taste of teamwork at the ISA Surf Games

The life of a professional surfer can often be one of solitude, but when looking back on his participation at the ISA Surf Games in 2019, that experience changed completely.

“As a professional surfer I travel by myself and do stuff only for myself, and now we were part of a team. We were a team representing France.

“You weren’t just surfing for yourself but for the whole country.

“It was the first time in maybe 10 years that I got to spend some time with people I didn’t even know and get to know them during the competition, and to have that feeling to be part of a team, it was great.”

Paris 2024 dreams

When Paris was selected as the host city for the Olympic Games in 2024, one of the obvious questions was where the surfing competition would take place.

Although mainland France has hundreds of kilometres of coastline, only a small portion of it can be used for surfing, and the waves tend to be at their best during the fall and winter months.

In summer 2019, the Paris 2024 Organising Committee expanded their sights across the sea and were invited by Bourez to check out the crown jewel of Tahitian surf spots, Teahupo’o.

They were clearly impressed by what they saw, as the competition is set to take place in Tahiti, part of the French Polynesia overseas collectivity of France.

As the man himself put it:

“They can have the best competition, the best show, probably the best show they could ever have in surfing history here in Tahiti.

“As a Tahitian I just want people to remember that it was make-able to reach the tour, to be part of the World Tour. It doesn’t matter where you come from, if you have that mentality that you are never going to give up, if you fall you get up, it doesn’t matter. As long as you keep going straight and reach your goals.”