For two men who have hovered around the top 10 on the ASP's World Championship Tour for years yet never tasted champagne at the elite level, the final of the Margaret River Pro was the time to shine. Both Michel Bourez and Josh Kerr have surfed in World Tour finals before, but until Sunday, neither had a win on his résumé.
Thirty minutes of surfing later and Bourez was on the beach celebrating while Kerr remained in the water wondering where he went wrong.
"I'm speechless. This is amazing. I could never believe something like this would happen, and I'm going to enjoy it," said a beaming Bourez before giving a gracious nod to family, friends and supporters back in his native French Polynesia.
"I want to thank everybody who's helped me get here," he continued, "but mostly want to dedicate this to my tiny family back home in Tahiti."
For Kerr, the final was bittersweet. While it pushes him up the ASP ratings and gives him some good momentum, getting so close to a win hurt.
"I've never made so many mistakes in a heat," lamented Kerr, "but if I'm going to lose to anyone, I'm glad it's Michel."
When the final day dawned to a decidedly more placid ocean than had been predicted, it was anybody's guess how things were going to play out. After a couple of lay days where all talk was of concluding the freshly reinstated WCT event in six-foot barrels at the Box, the swell arrived late, forcing contest organizers and surfers to focus their efforts on Margaret River's voluminous Mainbreak. For some, like Jordy Smith, Gabriel Medina and Nat Young, the move was welcomed with open arms, but for noted Box aficionados Kerr, Bourez, Joel Parkinson and Kelly Slater, the move was not what they were hoping for.
In the first quarterfinal, Smith squared up against Bede Durbidge. Both men came out swinging, but the script took a twist in the dying moments when Smith, holding priority, gave Durbidge an opportunity to improve his score. He capitalized and advanced while Smith was left scratching his head. Kerr made short work of top-ranked Medina in the second quarterfinal before Slater and Parkinson paddled out for the headline heat of the round.
In a slow half hour that saw only six waves ridden, it was Slater who set the tone, his opening wave a dazzling combination of turns to a tube that somehow ended up with a floater. Suddenly the early Sunday morning crowd was wide awake, and Slater followed with another audacious display, a searing run across the right punctuated with a huge floater to layback recovery on the shallow end section to leave Parkinson chasing an 8.87. With a last-ditch effort, Parkinson hammered out a string of huge turns but fell 0.1 shy of turning the heat. Slater survived and moved on to the semis, where he would come up against Bourez.
In the first semifinal, Kerr and Durbidge took to the water in a demonstration of contrasting styles. Durbidge's devastating turns were well received by the judges, but Kerr's deft air and rail game proved to be the difference as he advanced into the final.
The second semi pitted Tahiti's warrior against surfing's greatest, and early on it looked as if Slater was going to make light work of Bourez. Needing a 9.13 with seven minutes remaining, Bourez roared back on a solid six-foot wave that he tore to pieces, unleashing the two biggest (and most reaction drawing) turns of the day. Critics will argue that Bourez fell at the end, but judges will point to the rulebook and clarify that they throw scores for what a surfer has already done and Bourez had put in more than enough work to lock in the score. A 9.33 lit up the board, and Slater slid to second. Slater wasn't happy, but from the beach it seemed clear.
Onto the final, where Bourez rolled the dice and elected to take the available half-hour break to recover after his semi against Slater. The crowds on the beach were giddy and excited to see a first-time champion chaired into the winners' circle. The first 25 minutes of the final was a slow affair as Bourez and Kerr were surfing their third heats of the day and had overcome considerable hurdles to make it this far.
With 10 minutes remaining, the pair accepted the enormity of the situation, snapped out of their funk and started swapping blows. When it was all said and done, Bourez had the scores he needed to win the first World Tour event of his career. Stunned at what he accomplished, when asked about his plans for the upcoming contest at Bells, he went blank.
"I think I will let the rest of today happen first," he said.
The man has every right to. Margaret River ran 'til the end of the window in all manner of surf, and Bourez can now add his name to an honor roll chock full of world champs and heroes of heavy water. It won't be out of place.