CAPBRETON, France - Mickael Picon (Capbreton, FRA), 29, surfed his best year ever in 2008 on the ASP World Tour, finishing the year No. 21 in the world after several great performances including a 3rd place in Brazil, his best result to date. Picon, a longtime European leader who was the second French surfer ever to reach the elite in 2006, joined the ASP Top 45 for a second chance last year along with Jeremy Flores (FRA), Tiago Pires (PRT) and Aritz Aranburu (EUK), an unprecendent 4-European contingent to compete against the world’s best surfers. We caught up with Miky in Capbreton for a chat on Hawaii, the new competition formats, his year, his life on tour, his training and his view of the tour. Words from the Frenchman.
Resides: Capbreton, France
Sponsors: Quiksilver wetsuits and clothing, Channel Islands surfboards
Career Highlights: 3rd in Brazil, 9th in Tahiti and Indonesia
1. A few words about the final event, the Billabong Pipeline Masters?
The event was kind of short for me this year with no second chance because there was no Round 2. They decided to use the new format and the overlapping system so it was definitely different. Talking about my heat in particular, we lacked waves in the second part of the encounter but I was still happy with my performance. I did alright against Kamalei (Alexander) but there were a lot more rights than lefts and Backdoor is a difficult wave when you surf on your backhand. That wave goes really fast and moves a lot of water so it is difficult to get a great barrel on your backhand. I am happy with that last heat of the year, I did not do any big mistakes. I lost by 0.20 point so I am ok with that final run. The conditions were not exceptional during the event and when it comes down to competing more on Backdoor, it is pretty hard to beat any regular footed surfer (left foot ahead on the board).
2. And what about the new format that has been implemented for 2009 and the overlapping system?
That new system is going to change the approach for all of us competitors. The "second-chance" round 2 has been taken away from those who were counting on it and it comes to direct elimination every heat you surf. No room for approximation anymore. Some surfers used to come late at events knowing they could warm up during Round 1 and start seriously in Round 2, but this is just gone, at least for the events who have decided to use the new format because it is not mandatory yet. With one round less, we will have to be at 100% from the first seconds out in the water. It is kind of sad because when you travel across the world, wait for the start of the event if there’s no swell right at the beginning of the waiting period, and you lose your first heat, it is hard. It reminds me of the ASP World Qualifying Series (WQS), where you live this all the time. But for the sport, it is better. The overlapping system allows four men in the water at the same time, so there are a lot of waves surfed and it makes the show very exciting for the crowds.
3. What does Pipeline represent for you ? How important is this North Shore of Oahu for a professional surfer?
Pipeline and Backdoor are the world’s most famous waves, and to me it is the most tricky location on tour, the most powerful wave of the Dream Tour. It is so powerful, you have to change your usual board to surf a big one, there is a lot of backwash as well, and the combination of it all makes it so hard to tame. Teahupoo is just next, very close to Pipeline. The North Shore of Oahu is really a special place when you are a surfer, you have more than ten world famous waves on an 8-mile stretch, all great waves and different ones, I really think it is the best place on Earth wavewise. Backyards, Sunset, Rocky Points, Pipeline, Backdoor, Off-the-Wall, Rock Piles, Log Cabbins... All these waves are so close and so different, it’s just amazing.
Then as a pro surfer, all media are here for the winter from November to February and it is like a photo studio, like a cinema... It’s the Hollywood of surfing. Regarding the atmosphere, you’ve got to understand the locals because these guys wait all the year for the winter swells and when hundreds of guys are paddling out, you must have a natural hierarchy out there. But the feeling is great, all surfing companies own houses right on the beach, all teams hang out together, organise parties, etc... Jeremy (Flores) and I are in a house back on the hills, with a great training space, it’s calm and very good when you need to prepare and train hard.
4. Let’s look back at 2008 now, a good year for you?
I am very happy with my year. I reached my goal of finishing inside the Top 27 and requalifying through the ASP World Tour ratings. I focused on the major events this year and surfed very few ASP WQS contests and it worked out well so I am really satisfied. I thank all the people who helped me and gave me confidence like Yannick (Beven, trainer), Jeremy (Flores), Patrick (Beven), Pierre (Agnes), my parents, my girlfriend... A big part of it is mental so when people around you are positive and supporting you a lot, keep telling you that you can do it, it gives so much confidence. I was a bit stressed in the end after Mundaka, I was sitting on the bubble and it stressed me quite a bit thinking I could miss out the requalification so I worked my mental coach Edgar and it helped me a lot.
5. What about the level on the ASP World Tour in 2008? The Europeans ? And the conditions?
The level was really impressive all year, some events like the Boost Mobile Pro witnessed amazing surfing and it was such a great time to watch all these heats and be part of the ASP Top 45 in 2008. When you lose your heat, you still enjoy a lot watching the rest of the guys compete, all heats were exciting and I think everyone surfed really well last year. All ASP World Tour surfers rip and I am sure there was an 8.00 or a 9.00 in almost every heat last year. Then there was Kelly Slater. To watch him surf and see the way he approached every event was something special. He was relaxed all year, was having so much fun and was above us all everytime he surfed a wave in a heat.
Regarding European surfers, my first thought goes to Aritz (Aranburu) who injured his knee right at the beginning of the year and had to get through several injuries after that. But he came back strong in the end, surfed well in Brazil and got a 9th at Pipeline. Aritz is a great competitor, powerful, surfs in the criteria and charges solid waves.
It was not Tiago’s best year but his end-of-the-year rating (No. 31) did not reflect his level because he surfed some of the best heats of the year, got amazing waves with lots of nine-pointers but missed out by nothing like in Tahiti and Fiji. He impressed everyone on tour, beat Kelly in Bali and once again I think his rating does not match with his surfing. But he requalifed via the WQS so he will have a second chance and I think he can finish inside the Top 20 in 2009.
Jeremy started very strong with a semifinal on the Gold Coast and it gave him great confidence straight away. He got a 9th at Bells Beach after that. He knew he had to be at 100% from Heat 1 and he did very well, he looked confident all the time and managed to place 3rd at Trestles, the best event of the year with the highest level displayed. He beat Mick Fanning as well there. He did not do very well at the barreling locations on tour this year but he was not too lucky at these events and I am sure he can step up in 2009 in this kind of waves because while freesurfing he can charge big and surf well.
6. What about you? Have you achieved what you wanted in 2008?
Yes I think so... My first goal was to requalify but I started thinking of finishing inside the Top 16 afte Brazil and I was really amped for the Pipeline Masters. I am stoked to be back among the ASP Top 45 in 2009, with more confidence. I can’t wait to paddle back out, especially with that many Europeans on tour (seven) we are going to feel more "at home" whenever we meet at an event. Jeremy and I will be doing the same training with Yannick, probably take Michel (Bourez) and Aritz (Aranburu) on board at a few events. We feel like we have found our marks on tour, our strenghts, weaknesses, so we should be starting on a good basis when the first event gets underway.
7. Did you have some doubts in 2008? Did you feel like you had done a bad choice by not competing at all big ASP WQS events?
I definitely had big doubts all year long. All the way from the start I was sitting on the bubble, between No. 25 and 35 so I was never totally relaxed. I did alright in the beginning, then got a 9th in Tahiti which came on time and gave me a break. But I got last in South Africa and the tough moment was after my Round 2 loss in France. I ped out of the Top 27 with three events remaining and things were getting really tight so it made doubt a lot but I kept my head high with all the support around me. We went to Mundaka early with Jeremy and Yannick and I got another 9th there which helped me build my confidence back. Then we went to Brazil and gave everything we could to do well and I secured my requalification there with my semifinal. But looking at the year overall, I had a few nights without any sleep stressing about my results and feeling a bit of pressure on my shoulders.
8. Your best moment in 2008? Your worst time in 2008?
The best time of the year was in Brazil when Jeremy and I surfed against eachother in the Semifinals. We were the first guys to get there, trained really hard, surfed in testing conditions with no one out before the event and Yannick pushed us a lot for this event and we felt like soldiers there. It was a great moment because all the surfers knew we had given a lot into that contest, the organisers as well, and to make it to the Semifinals together was so special. And looking at the bigger picture, two French surfers in the Semifinals of an ASP World Tour event is exceptional.
The tough time this year was at the Quiksilver Pro France in September. I surfed during a changing tide and the line-up was just so bad. I knew the wave so well, I had been surfing it for a week everyday and that loss made me very sad, the fact it was in France in front of my home town making it even worse of course. The thing is it was exactly my kind of conditions, with tricky lefthanders in the strong currents, but it went all wrong. I knew I needed a result there as well so there was a combination of negative things and it affected me a lot. But it is a big lesson as well for 2009 and I learnt from this loss. On the other hand, I don’t really see anything wrong in my training for that event so I don’t have any key yet. I don’t know how to deal with the Quiksilver Pro France yet, but we’ll have to work on it and change our approach.
9. Have you decided of any goal for 2009?
I am going to focus on my main goal which is to requalify through the Dream Tour. I will surf few WQS events in order to dedicate all my training to the ASP World Tour. I think that once you are on tour, you deserve it and you have the skills to do well so there is no need of chasing results on the ASP WQS I think it doesn’t help you at all so I will stick to my strategy and focus on the ten major events. On the other hand, there is no drama ping back to the WQS. After gaining all that experience as an ASP Top 45 member, you get back on the WQS with so much confidence and knowledge and you can have a great time on the Grind. But whatever my goals are, I will think about all this once the year is ON and see what I can realisticly aim at in 2009.
10. Anything else?
It’s been a great year. We have a strong team, Europeans did well overall in 2008 and hopefully left a good image. Seven of us are getting ready for the start in a month and I hope we can all do better. I want to thank everyone for the great year we had all together and special thanks to Quiksilver, Belly, Yannick, Jeremy, Bruna, Lali, my parents, the ASP Europe and everyone else.