Justine Dupont has been one of the leaders of the women’s big wave movement over the past couple of years. She has been posting up at Nazare and consistently dominating tow sessions, and also made what was, by most accounts, the best women’s tow barrel ever at Jaws.
At the same time, she’s been pushing the limits with paddle sessions at Nazare, Jaws, and Maverick’s. At the Big Wave Awards in October, she won Ride of the Year, Biggest Tow Wave, and Performer of the Year, and also took third for Biggest Paddle Wave. In other words, she basically dominated the entire awards night, and by extension the big wave year.
When Justine got an invite into the 2022 Nazare Challenge with her local tow partner Tony Laureano, it seemed that only a fool would bet against her. Unfortunately, she got belted on the first wave of the contest and ended up breaking her ankle, putting a stop to both her event and her winter season.
But rather than feeling sorry for herself, Justine was more focused on trying to find ways for Tony to keep surfing the event. And a week after the accident, she’s at home in France recuperating—and if our chat a few days ago is any indication, staying pretty damned positive about the whole thing.
How are you feeling Justine? And where are you right now?
I’m good! I’m at my parents’ place in France, and probably going to stay here until the rehab centre that I like with is able to start working on my ankle! I worked with them four years ago and they were really helpful with my injuries, so I want to work with them again.
Tell us about the contest and the injury. What happened?
It was the first wave of the contest, actually. Tony Laureano and I had surfed the day before, but we had a pretty mellow day because we wanted to save our energy for the contest.
So, we were really excited and ready for the event, and we were in the first heat. We didn’t surf before the event, we focused on our heat, and as soon as it started, we were ready. We had priority, so we planned to wait for a good one. It was really peaky, both rights and lefts, and we were sticking to the second peak because it seemed to be the best.
We decided to go on a right, it wasn’t an epic one, but a good one. Tony towed me in perfectly, but there were a couple of other skis down low, so I sort of changed my line to try to avoid their wake.
The right can be pretty fast sometimes, and I knew it was sketchy, but I thought I was good
The right can be pretty fast sometimes, and I knew it was sketchy, but I thought I was good. I made it through the first big whitewater explosion, but then the next one got me. And when I was underwater, I could feel that my foot was stuck in the strap.
And then I felt a crack and a pop, and I knew it wasn’t good. But I was hoping maybe it was still okay—sometimes when you are getting worked underwater, you feel cracks and things. But when I got to the surface, I could tell that it was bad. And when Tony got me on the ski, I could tell it was over for me. My foot felt weird and really painful, so we headed to the harbor and that was the end of the day. I was pretty bummed because I hoped that Tony could surf, but I guess since I was out, our team was out.
Yeah, from what I have heard about the day, it seemed like you were more bummed about him missing his chance in the contest than you were about your injury.
For sure. He had a good opportunity in the contest, and it was a good day of surfing. On a normal day, he would have gotten to surf. We knew my life wasn’t in danger and it was only my foot, so it was fixable.
So, there was nothing that Tony could do, so I wanted him to get to surf. I was hoping that Fred David [Justine’s partner and safety driver] could tow him, since he was part of our team. I remember in the first tow contest, I think Francisco Porcello and Nic Von Rupp were partners and Francisco got injured, Nic was able to keep surfing with Fred towing him.
And we had asked the day before the event what the policy was if someone got hurt, and they sort of told us that they didn’t really know what the rule was going to be this time. So I was hoping that Tony could surf, but they decided that if one member of the team was out, then the entire team was out. So I was pretty bummed for Tony. But we will wait for the event next year, and we are going to score!
How bad is the injury? Are you expected to make a full recovery?
Yeah, I think it is going to heal nice. I am sending a lot of positivity to the injury and my body. It’s a pretty serious ankle injury—broken bones and destroyed ligaments, so there is a lot of metal and screws in my foot.
The doctors said maybe three months for the bones and ligaments to heal. I am hoping that I will heal fast and be good in three or four months.
The injury is at the top of the ankle, so it’s a tricky one, but I am looking forward to get back to 100 percent. Once the injury heals enough and the pain passes, then I can start rehab and get back to work.
Before the injury it seems like you were having a pretty amazing season at Nazare.
Yeah, this winter has been so strange. Last year we thought we were going to just stay in Nazare because of COVID-19 but ended up chasing swells everywhere else.
And this year we thought about going to Hawaii and Mavericks, but there haven’t really been many big days, and Nazare has been so active. There have been so many swells and so many days of good wind, so much opportunity, and we haven’t left Nazare!
There have been so many good paddle days, and also massive tow days. I have been able to work on my boards and my lines, and I feel like it has been a winter of progression. I have been really stoked about some of the paddle days. It’s good and challenging, and so many opportunities. And it’s good training for other places. Other waves are heavy too, in their own way, but Nazare is so crazy, it is really good preparation.
It seems like over the years people have paid more attention to your tow surfing than paddle surfing. You have gotten some huge ones at Nazare, and that amazing barrel at Jaws. But a lot of people don’t realise that you also paddle a lot.
I just love whatever the ocean sends. I prefer to paddle if the wind and conditions are good, but if it’s massive and windy and you aren’t going to catch any waves, then towing is good. But I really love paddling, it’s a good challenge, and I have been working on my boards.
It’s a bummer I won’t be able to go to Jaws this season, I really wanted to get a bomb there. But last season was amazing because there were so many opportunities to paddle big waves. Some winters you have to wait months between big paddle sessions, but last year seemed so consistent in the Pacific.
It seems like ever since the paddle event at Nazare got cancelled, less guys are paddling and it is becoming more of a tow spot again. Do you think that’s correct?
Actually, there have been so many paddle days this season. But I think the media only pays attention to the really huge days, and they aren’t covering a lot of the paddle days. [We see everything though – Nazare's greatest paddle day, HERE]
I think it just depends on the conditions. Last year there weren’t very many good paddle days—hardly any at all. But this year there have been so many. It would be cool to have the paddle event at Nazare again. There are so many opportunities. Some years have been tricky, but this year has been so amazing.
Well, we are bummed that you are out for the rest of the winter, but maybe you will get lucky with your timing and won’t miss too many more swells this winter.
Yeah of course there is a part of me that hopes I don’t miss swells, but I also don’t wish for the ocean to go flat because I went everyone else to score and get waves.
And there are already more swells on the forecast—Nazare is going to be huge again next week, and I think the Punta Galea Challenge will run. I was really stoked to have the opportunity to surf that wave and that event, and I am pretty bummed to have to miss it now, but I still hope it’s epic for the guys in the event, and that there are lots more swells this winter.
If we are lucky, there will be a few more this season. And in the meantime, we hope that you heal up fast and are back in the water soon. Thanks for the chat, Justine!